PH welcomes US report reaffirming 2016 arbitral award

Through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Malacanang welcomed on Friday the reaffirmation by the United States of the 2016 Arbitral Award based on a study released last week.

In a statement, the DFA declared: “We welcome the affirmation of the 2016 Arbitral Award by the US State Department’s Limits in the Seas No. 150: People’s Republic of China: Maritime Claims in the South China Sea.”

The State Department’s 47-page report said Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, “especially considering their expansive geographic and substantive scope, gravely undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally recognized provisions of international law” reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

One example, the report cited, is China’s claims to sovereignty over maritime features that do not meet the international law definition of an “island” and fall entirely beyond a lawful territorial sea.

“This includes any claim to sovereignty over entirely submerged features like James Shoal, Vanguard Bank, and Macclesfield Bank. It also includes any claim to sovereignty over low-tide elevations, such as Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, which fall entirely beyond a lawful territorial sea entitlement and which are not subject to appropriation under international law,” the report read.

It noted that China’s “historic rights claims” in the area are also “plainly inconsistent” with international law.

“The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) historic rights claim has been protested by the United States and many other States and was rejected by the tribunal in The South China Sea Arbitration,” it said.

“The overall effect of these maritime claims is that the PRC unlawfully claims sovereignty or some form of exclusive jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea,” it added.

The DFA said Washington D.C.’s reaffirmation is consistent with the Philippines-US Joint Vision Statement issued last November 2021, including the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling, which it described as “legally binding” on both Manila and Beijing.

Beijing continues to claim over 80 percent of the resource-rich South China Sea under its so-called “historic rights”.

The Hague-based PCA in a 2016 decision said Chinese navigators and fishermen, as well as those of other countries, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, but there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.

The Tribunal eventually concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within its “nine-dash line”.

Last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing maintains its position in the contested waters while calling the landmark ruling “illegal, null and void”. (PNA)