Why the international law shouldn’t be an option to resolve China-Philippines row?


The disputed waters in South China Sea. (Image credit: thesantosrepublic.com)

Formally, international laws serve as guidelines or standards in resolving disputes, crises, and inconsistencies between nations and states.

International laws, quite essentially, should not undermine or question existing laws and historic domains a sovereign state already has. In other words, it should be tailored accordingly to what interest most to the general welfare in the international scope. Thus, it should be presumed that international laws must be perfected according to what is just, legal, and proper, and thus, should also be considered that they must be consistent to equality, justice, and sovereignty.

The Philippines has become steadfast in resolving the issue through the intervention of an international law such as the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS. On the contrary, China wanted it to resolve by a bilateral talk or process. Now, what makes it unlikely to resolve the row either by these two ways? Probably, there are only two apparent reasons:

  1. Through international law, the issue is obviously favorable to the Philippines, and in the contrary is calamitous to China’s historic claim.
  2. Through a bilateral talk or process, the issue might be unclear to both parties on where they must go, and the tendency to either giving in or giving up is safe to say obscure. And the most probable end result from this process would be:
  • The Philippines should either respect or cooperate with China in return for economic or political and security (of course, a clandestine deal).
  • Or else, the row would continue to swell indefinite.

Territorial disputes, categorically, can only be solved through international laws if and only if the said law is beneficial and equitable to both disputing parties after considering the multifaceted factors involved.

The fact that both China and the Philippines have reservations declared in UNCLOS when they ratified it, then UNCLOS isn’t an ideal option. Rather, it would only give birth to injustice, especially to China (a case-to-case basis). However, China, when it comes to other international laws, treaties, and practices in relation to territorial acquisition, has, historically and substantially exercised territorial sovereignty through China’s historic claim vis-a-vis the 1958 Declaration on the Territorial Sea, the 1992 Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, and China’s constant assertion of the territory coupled with effective occupation by Chinese fishermen so long before the Philippines’ defensive claim broke out. Should UNCLOS intervention prevails on this issue, then, the scenario would become akin to disrespecting not only to China’s long been preserved history but also to its sovereignty.

The Philippines, on the other hand, argued not only for proximity but also for its sovereignty apparently vested upon by UNCLOS. Then, what about the sovereignty of China that from the very beginning, China has been exercising and constantly asserting territorial sovereignty over the disputed waters in South China Sea, now, the Philippines claimed it west of the the Philippine Sea? And what about for the Philippines?

Practically and historically, the Philippines has no history of sovereignty over the disputed water in the South China Sea not even has it a declaration included to the Philippines territorial maps and long history of constant claim over the disputed water until it ratified UNCLOS.

In other words, the Philippines has earned sovereignty over the disputed water ONLY at the time UNCLOS was ratified.

But, here’s the twist: Although the Philippines ratified UNCLOS, it left UNCLOS a mark of declaration or reservations including what has already been part of the Philippine territory before the ratification.

In the other side of the coin, China has already a historical sovereignty over the disputed waters before the convention for UNCLOS formation and the ratification. Moreover, though China ratified UNCLOS, just like the Philippines, it declared reservations, as well. In other words, by declaring reservations, presumably, both disputing parties set aside more or less UNCLOS provisions. Ergo, if this is subtly true, then both do not acknowledge UNCLOS. Then, why the hell the Philippines wanted to resolve the issue by the intervention of UNCLOS when it has reservations and so and so?

Author’s note: Under favorable condition, I stood only by reasons and what is just and reasonable, not by who exactly I am, where my loyalty must go, and what my nationality is. 

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