By Marivir R. Montebon
“The South China Sea actually belongs to the whole humanity. Its vastness has gone beyond the defined 200 nautical miles of the exclusive economic zone of any sovereign state. It is a common ground, as defined by UNCLOS. The 9-dash lines which China is using, without even explaining why, claims the entire sea to itself.” – Justice Antonio Carpio
New York City — Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court said that although the Philippines will likely win in its claim of the disputed groups of islands in the South China Sea, engaging China to dismantle its military installations in the islands would be another story.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration will decide on the case of the RP-China dispute over the Spratlys group of islands and the Scarborough Shoal by the end of October. Carpio said that the row over the Spratlys and Scarborough is an acid test for UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). For the Philippines, it simply means keeping its marine and oil resources intact, 80 percent of which are sourced in the South China Sea. China, meanwhile, is openly building its military might in the region.
“We could have a favorable decision,” said Carpio who had been on a US tour to inform Filipinos about the progress of the case. “But having to make China dismantle its installations in our territory may take years. That is why it is important for the people to be informed and be engaged. The boycott China campaign spearheaded by Loida Nicolas Lewis may be one way to get there,” he said.
Carpio spoke before Filipinos in New York at the Kalayaan Hall of the Philippine Center in Manhattan on October 7, 2015. He said that China had been “very creepy” in its claim of the seas through its 9-dash lines which essentially makes China wanting to own the entire South China Sea.
In the US, the group US Pinoys for Good Governance has been campaigning against China’s incursion into the West Philippine Sea. Headed by lawyer and businesswoman Loida Nicolas Lewis, it has called the public to boycott China made products and lobby for the respect of territorial waters of the Philippines.
Carpio explained that China’s claimed historical rights has long been outmoded by UNCLOS. This international treaty stipulates that territorial waters are determined in relation to the existence of land. Hence, an island can claim jurisdiction and sovereignty, called the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), for at most 200 NM from its shore, if it is found to support life.
The Philippines invokes UNCLOS over its claim of the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal, which falls within its EEZ. In the Carpio research, there has not been any overlapping claim of other states based on their own territorial waters.
“Therefore, the South China Sea actually belongs to the whole humanity, and not any specific state, because its vastness has gone beyond the defined 200 nautical miles of a sovereign state, or an open sea, as defined by UNCLOS. The 9-dash lines which China is using, without even explaining why, claims the entire sea to itself.”
Despite the ongoing hearing of the case, China has continuously reclaimed parts of the Mischief Reef and other islands for its military installation.The South China Sea is a navigable deep sea shared by China and other southeast Asian countries. It is vast that none of the EEZs of these states are significantly overlapping. The South China Sea is a strategic navigational water as it is the gateway towards the Pacific Ocean.
According to Carpio, even if China used the historic claims through the 9-dash lines, its own ancient maps, dating back to 960 AD, show that its southernmost territory has always been the Hainan Island. “There is not a single ancient Chinese map, whether made by Chinese or foreigners, showing that the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal were ever part of Chinese territory,” he said.
The neighboring Southeast Asian countries Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Taiwan, and Cambodia have stakes to the intrusive claims of China. Although not part in the filing of protest before the arbitrational tribunal, Carpio said these states have expressed support to the Philippine claim of the islands. The US, meanwhile, has positioned to keep the South China Sea openly navigable.