Manila files legal case against Beijing’s South China Sea claim [World Socialist Website]

By Joseph Santolan
3 April 2014

On March 30, Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s administration filed a legal case before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) disputing Beijing’s claim to waters and land features in the South China Sea. The ITLOS is an intergovernmental body established by the United Nations for adjudicating maritime disputes in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Manila’s case, which was electronically submitted, was nearly 4,000 pages long. It argues that China’s South China Sea claim—referred to as “the nine-dash claim” because of the nine-dash line drawn around the disputed waters on Chinese territorial maps—is based exclusively on historical documents and not the proximate land features, such as the Spratly Islands. Manila insists that the Philippines has sovereignty over spits of rock, sandbars and atolls that continue to project above sea level at high tide and that each of these bits of earth grants Manila sovereignty over the surrounding waters.

The legal case marks a significant escalation of the tensions in the region, which have already reached a boiling point. As with each previous heightening of conflicts in the South China Sea, the real author of this latest provocation is not Manila, but Washington.

Beijing has consistently maintained that disputes in the region must be resolved on a bilateral basis and not through multilateral talks or international adjudication. Washington has repeatedly stated that “freedom of navigation” is an issue in which it has a “national interest.” It has pressured Beijing and the rival South China Sea claimants to address their disputes in multilateral discussions, with Washington as a participant.

Manila’s legal case was drafted and will be argued by the US law firm, Foley Hoag, which has close ties to the Obama administration. The firm gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Obama’s election campaigns, and Obama appointed a Foley Hoag senior partner as ambassador to Norway. The lead lawyer on the Manila’s ITLOS case is Foley Hoag partner Paul Reichler.

Beijing has refused to respond to the case and will not appear before the ITLOS. A five-member panel of judges will review Manila’s case and reach a legal decision, which is non-binding on the disputants.

According to the Aquino administration, Beijing sent requests to Manila during the final week of January through an emissary from Brunei and through “diplomatic backchannels” requesting that Manila delay the submission of its ITLOS suit in order to “ease tension in the region.”

The response was sharp and clearly orchestrated by Washington. The New York Times conducted an exclusive interview with President Aquino, in which he pointedly compared China to Nazi Germany and the disputed South China Sea to the Sudetenland, which Hitler annexed before the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia.

At the same time, the US State department issued several statements that for the first time openly disputed Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea. Previously Washington adopted a posture of neutrality of territorial claims—while tacitly encouraging allies such as the Philippines to aggressively press their case…

Excerpted; full article link: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/04/03/phil-a03.html
*****
See also “Commentary: Manila’s wrong calculation” [Xinhua] — http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-03/31/c_133226771.htm

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