Why the Philippines Has No Chance of Making China Go to Court
I’ve been following the standoff between the Philippines Navy and Chinese “surveillance” ships in the South China Sea (or West Philippines Sea) with some concern. As I noted here, China has some rather expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea that countries like the Philippines are resisting. But given the relative sizes of their navies, it is obvious that the Philippines cannot rely on military force to resist China’s claims. But I am doubtful that the Philippines’ attempt to invoke the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea will have much effect here. Here is China’s argument, according to a Filipino newspaper:
“Until 1997, the Philippine side has never disputed China’s jurisdiction of and development of Huangyan Island. On the other hand, the Philippines indicated on a number of occasions that Huangyan Island was beyond its territory. According to international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Philippines’ claim of jurisdiction and sovereignty rights over Huangyan Island with the arguments of Exclusive Economic Zone is groundless. Unclos allows coastal states to claim a 200-nautical mile EEZ, but coastal states have no rights to infringe on the inherent territory and sovereignty of other countries,” it said.
China’s position is that this is a question of sovereignty, and not the Law of the Sea. There is no basis for the ITLOS to assert jurisdiction over this dispute, without China’s consent. This seems right to me. Except that no one is sure exactly what the basis of China’s sovereignty claim is, but assuming it has one, then the Law of the Sea is not going to help the Filipinos out here.