For observers of disputes in the South China Sea, it has long been shown that bilateral disputes between claimant states in Southeast Asia hamper the ability to present a common front against China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
The challenge has been highlighted again since the end of March, when more than 200 Chinese ships has been deployed in Philippine waters, refused to comply with Manila’s repeated requests to withdraw from the area.
Originally concentrated around the Whitsun Reef, where low tide is located in the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, a fleet of naval militia ships, coast guard ships and at least two class missile warships. Houbei, already since dispersed over the entire disputed Spratly Islands, which Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan also claim in whole or in part.
With its usual pro-China stance, President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has voiced unusual voices about Chinese ships, offering official diplomatic protests every day since April 5, summoning ambassadors China and openly condemn China’s actions in the media. However, the government’s assertion of its own claims has been complicated by the fact that they also contradict the longstanding claims of Vietnam and Malaysia.
In an interview With Philippine media Rappler last week, retired Philippine Supreme Court Judge Antonio Carpio presented a viable option for the three Southeast Asian claimants, asking them to submit to voluntary arbitration at International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve remaining territorial disputes.
While working at the Supreme Court, Carpio helped shape the lawsuit the Philippines brought against China at ICJ in 2013, ruling mostly in favor of the Philippines in 2016.
“I propose that we should bring voluntary arbitration – territorial disputes – to the International Court of Justice, because that is the only way to settle this matter peacefully,” Carpio said in an interview with Rappler’s Marites Vitug editor. “No nation will voluntarily admit their claims.”
Carpio added that the recent deployment of Chinese ships only emphasized the need of the Philippines to resolve territorial disputes with its Southeast Asian neighbors, describing it as a sign of “China. is gradually activating its claims in territorial disputes ”.
The ICJ’s 2016 arbitral award, which handles maritime claims, rejects China’s extended “nine-dash line” claim that is invalid under international maritime law. However, various territorial disputes – i.e. the question of which country has sovereignty over the islands and other maritime features – remain unresolved and remain an impediment to integration. deepening intra-ASEAN cooperation on this issue.
“We have this territorial dispute and it concerns ASEAN and other countries, and we should settle it as ASEAN brothers,” said Mr. Carpio.
To be sure, the law can only go as far as compelling cooperation from China, which, like most superpowers, has a responsibility to uphold the rules as they support their own national interests and rejected them, and completely rejected the 2016 ruling. But this move will be recognized that no one can oppose the might of the naval forces, coast guard and maritime forces of China, at the same time helping to win over global opinion, is what Southeast Asian claimants desperately need because of the great power imbalance between them and China.
“Whether or not we have been successful in convincing our neighbors,” Carpio said, “we are telling the world that China refuses to bring this issue to voluntary arbitration. And China likes to use force to compromise. China believes in ‘maybe right’, we believe ‘yes is possible’, and we will win more world opinion on our part. “
There are some signs that things are moving in this direction. As I noted earlier this month, Malaysia and Vietnam are this year intends to sign The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aims to enhance their cooperation in maritime security matters. But it remains to be seen whether these states can put their perceived national interests in the interests of a broader conception of the common good.