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Philippines turns to UN deal to settle dispute with China

Philippines presses for strict adherence to UN deal in sea border dispute with China

Gulf News

Manila: The Philippines is urging strict adherence to the provisions of a long-standing UN agreement governing sea borders as it took its dispute with China before the world body.

During the 21st Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos 21) held from June 13 to 17 at the UN in New York, Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat (CMOAS) Secretary General Henry Bensurto pressed for compliance "to the rule of law in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and rejected efforts to broaden disputes in areas in the region."

The instance marks the few occassions since the 1990s that the Philippines had taken before the UN its issue concerning its maritime sea borders.

The Philippines took the same course of action in 1995 when China constructed satellite communication facilities in the disputed Spratlys.

In December 2010, China it upgraded its structures to include a three-storey building equipped with a helipad.

In March, the Philippines started oil exploratory test drillings in the Recto Bank, which is some 85 nautical miles from Palawan and is closer to the mainland mass than the Spratlys.

The exploratory activities nevertheless alerted China into stating that it has jurisdiction over Recto Bank as well as the Spratlys and that any country seeking to exploit natural resources in the area must have its permission first.

But Manila was unshaken by Beijing's iteration even as both countries sent token forces, the lumbering BRP Rajah Humabon of the Philippines and the Haixun 31 in the case of China.

In a statement delivered Bensurto, the official noted that "recent developments in the Recto bank have tended to broaden the concept of disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea to include even those waters and continental shelves that are clearly within the sovereignty and/or jurisdiction of the Philippines."

"The Philippines firmly rejects any efforts in this regard. Such actions are inconsistent with UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos)," Bensurto stressed.

Unclos is considered the world's constitution on oceans.

Bensurto underlined the Philippines' commitment to international law and the rule of law, specifically he said that "We expect nothing less from our international partners."

Underscoring the primacy of international law, particularly the Unclos and CMOAS, Bensurto stated: "In situations where disputes on maritime claims exist, UNCLOS provides clues as well as answers by which such maritime disputes could be addressed."

The CMOAS Secretary General also urged all parties to the Asea-China Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea to faithfully abide by the Declaration provisions, including paragraph 5 which mandates parties to "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability."

"The Declaration of Conduct expresses in a concrete way our collective goal for rules-based action by all concerned parties," he added.

During the meeting, the need for maintaining peace and security in the South China Sea and the primacy of the Unclos was also echoed by Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Singapore in their respective national statements.

These nations also called for the peaceful resolution of disputes as enshrined in the Unclos.