MANILA (Mabuhay) –The Philippines’ legal team on Thursday presented before a The Hague-based tribunal several international maritime law violations of China, which include massive destruction of marine ecosystem, harassment of Filipino fishermen and the intentional ramming of Philippine vessels that caused near-collision with Chinese ships.
On the third day of the hearing on Manila’s case by a five-man tribunal panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Philippines showed to the court the extent of damage China has done to the marine ecosystem in the South China Sea.
Professor Alan Boyle, who is part of Manila’s international law team, told the tribunal that, “if unchecked, China’s activities will continue to pose a significant threat to the marine environment of the South China Sea and of all the states which border the sea.”
Boyle argued that China has violated its obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to protect and preserve the marine environment, citing instances of harmful fishing practices such as blast fishing, cyanide fishing, harvesting of giant clams, catching of turtles, and other endangered species.
Boyle also stressed that Chinese fishermen and vessels carried on with their illegal fishing activities under China’s watch.
Supporting Boyle’s presentation, Professor Kent Carpenter of the Department of Biological Sciences at the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, an expert witness tapped by the Philippines, also cited as damaging to the marine environment China’s massive island-building on formerly submerged reefs.
Carpenter said China’s actions, which has stirred concerns from several countries, including the United States, “have caused grave harm to the environment in the South China Sea…and that the damage to the complex coral reef ecosystem is close to catastrophic.”
Boyle returned to the floor to detail the series of near-collisions that occurred in April and May 2012 in Scarborough Shoal involving Chinese Marine Service vessels and Philippine vessels.
In those incidents, Philippine officials accused China of intentionally ramming its bigger vessels against smaller Philippine government ships.
These incidents, according to Boyle, displayed China’s “deliberate disregard for international law” on the safety of maritime vessels.
Professor Bernard Oxman, also a part of the Philippine legal team, presented other violations by China which aggravated and extended the dispute, even while the arbitration process is ongoing.
Oxman cited instances where the Philippines was blocked by China from entering Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, for a resupply mission.
China’s denial of access, Oxman noted, forms part of “a deliberate policy to physically expel the Philippines and its nationals” from the disputed features and its surrounding waters.
Another expert witness, Clive Schofield, current Director of Research at the Australian Centre for Ocean Resource and Security at the University of Wollongong, meanwhile, disclosed his findings on 47 features earlier requested by the tribunal to be studied to determine whether they are “insular, low tide, or high tide elevations.”
Landsat images of the Scarborough Shoal at high tide and low tide were also presented by Schofield. The Philippine-claimed shoal fell under Chinese control after a maritime standoff in 2012.
Part of Manila’s case is to ask the court to define the areas, where China is asserting claims, whether it is a rock, reef an atoll, island or submerged feature, and subsequently determine from its baseline the allowed number of nautical miles or rights it is entitled to.
An island, for example, generates a 200-nautical mile maritime entitlement, while a rock or reef is limited to 12 nautical miles.
The Philippines’ claims are anchored on its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone provided for under the 1982 UNCLOS, which was signed by 163 UN member-states, including China.
China’s claims, on the other hand, is based on its unilateral nine-dash-line theory that encompasses almost the entire South China Sea – an assertion that Manila says are illegal, excessive and a violation of international laws.
China continues to insist on bilateral negotiations with the Philippines and other individual claimants in the South China Sea, and has refused to participate in the arbitral tribunal proceedings.
The resource-rich waters is home to a chain of more than 100 islands, shoals, reefs and coral outcrops and straddles one of the world’s most vital sea lanes. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping sea claims.
Competing claims have sparked occasional violence and now regarded as a potential regional flashpoint for armed conflict. (MNS)