MANILA (Mabuhay) – The Philippines plans to seek a faster ruling on an international arbitration complaint it filed to invalidate China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea after Beijing formally declined to join the case, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said late Tuesday.
Manila is also studying whether to ask the Netherlands-based tribunal to ask China to stop its constructions and other expansion activities in the disputed waters while the five-man tribunal operating under a United Nations convention is hearing the case, Del Rosario added.
“Since China is not participating, perhaps we could get a quicker resolution from the tribunal,” he said.
“What we want to do because China is not participating and because the situation is getting worse every day in the South China Sea, I am asking our retainers in the US if we can present a request to the tribunal if they can hasten the process,” he added.
Manila’s plan demonstrates the alarm the Philippines, Vietnam and other rival claimant countries’ have harbored over a spike in Chinese actions in recent times to consolidate and cement its massive territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East Sea.
China’s expansion moves have also alarmed the international community, which has called for a stop of such actions and the use of coercion and threats that could escalate tensions and lead to a major armed conflict.
The Philippines recently revealed that China is engaged in construction activities and reclamation of at least five disputed areas. These features, Philippine officials say, fall within the country’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.
Del Rosario earlier proposed a moratorium on construction activities in the disputed zones – an initiative that met strong opposition from China.
“We obviously have a situation that is exacerbating there and we need to do something urgently to be able to curtail a possible jeopardy,” he said.
China rejects the claims of its smaller neighbors like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, saying it has indisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea – a resource-rich body of water where undersea oil and gas deposits have been discovered in several areas.
It maintains its “relevant activities” there are “legitimate” and “fall totally within China’s sovereignty.”
“There is a term called provisional measure and we’re looking into that. It’s a study that is in progress,” Del Rosario replied when asked if the Philippines plans to ask the tribunal to order China to halt expansion activities while it’s hearing Manila’s complaint.
The Philippines filed a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in January 2013 to try to declare its massive claim illegal. (MNS)