Manila confident of favourable tribunal ruling in sea dispute

Activists hold a rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila's financial district on July 3, 2015 to protest China's reclamation works in the South China Sea.
Activists hold a rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila's financial district on July 3, 2015 to protest China's reclamation works in the South China Sea.PHOTO: AFP

First hearings will decide whether The Hague tribunal has jurisdiction; China staying away

MANILA • The Philippines expects a United Nations tribunal to rule in its favour in an increasingly fraught dispute with China over territories in the South China Sea, a presidential spokesman said yesterday.

Manila will argue its position against Beijing's claim over most of the resource-rich sea at The Hague from Tuesday to July 13.

China has refused to participate in the arbitration proceedings. The upcoming hearings will decide whether the tribunal has jurisdiction over the case.

"We prepared a strong case. We believe we stand on strong legal ground," presidential spokesman Abigail Valte told government radio. "We believe the tribunal will look at our case with favour. We are confident of the Philippine position on this matter."

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario will lead a government delegation to The Hague, assisted by United States-based lawyers, foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

POSITION OF STRENGTH

We prepared a strong case. We believe we stand on strong legal ground... We are confident of the Philippine position on this matter.

PHILIPPINE PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN ABIGAIL VALTE

If the Netherlands-based court decides it has jurisdiction, Mr Jose said the Philippines would be asked to argue the merits of its case in another round of hearings.

The Philippines is among the most vocal critics of China's South China Sea claims, which also overlap with those of Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. Beijing has reinforced its claim by building artificial islands on the disputed reefs.

Dwarfed by China in terms of economic and military might, the Philippines has turned to arbitration as it strengthened military alliances with the US and Japan. The Philippine navy held separate naval drills with its American and Japanese counterparts last month.

Meanwhile, Japan and five countries bordering the South China Sea pledged to uphold freedom of navigation and overflight amid rising tensions over China's build-up of reefs in the disputed waters.

Japan and the so-called Mekong region nations called for swift agreement on a code of conduct to manage disputes in the sea that is being negotiated between Asean and China. They reiterated their concerns over "recent developments" that they said may undermine the region's stability in a joint statement issued yesterday.

Separately, the government in Tokyo will provide 750 billion yen (S$8.2 billion) over three years to develop infrastructure and conserve the environment in the Mekong region, where rival China is increasing its presence.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled the pledge at a summit in Tokyo with his counterparts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam - fast-growing economies through which the lower section of the Mekong river flows. The Mekong region "is one of our most important areas", Mr Abe told a news briefing.

Japan has been signalling its support for countries around the South China Sea, a region that's estimated to host more than US$5 trillion (S$6.7 trillion) of shipping each year and provide about 10 per cent of the world's fishing catch.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 05, 2015, with the headline 'Manila confident of favourable tribunal ruling in sea dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe