The Philippines detained 11 Chinese fishermen for unverifiable crime after seizing their vessel near China’s Half Moon Shoal in the South China Sea on May 6. On Monday, the Philippines defied China’s demand to free the fishermen and charged nine of them with poaching more than 500 endangered sea turtles. Two fishermen, both minors, will be sent back home.
By doing so, the Philippines has violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which it has been trying to use to legalize its claim on China’s islands in the South China Sea.
China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters in the South China Sea. In May 2009, Malaysia and Vietnam jointly submitted to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf a notification of the two countries’ continental shelf claims in the South China Sea, and Vietnam also unilaterally made another submission. In response, China submitted its map of the nine-dash line attached to two note verbales to the UN to refute the two countries’ extended continental shelf claims. In the notes, China stated that it has the sovereignty and sovereign rights over the territorial sea and exclusive economic zones of Nansha Islands.
Since Half Moon Shoal is part of the Nansha Islands, Manila has no right to detain any vessel or fisherman fishing in its waters. By doing so, it has violated international norms for the fishing industry, as well as the UNCLOS.
China has been exercising its administrative jurisdiction over the Nansha Islands and its surrounding waters by carrying out normal maritime operations. But of late, Chinese fishermen have not been feeling safe in the South China Sea because of the belligerent attitude of some countries locked in territorial disputes with China.
According to the UNCLOS, after being authorized to fish in some exclusive economic zones, countries should abide by the laws and regulations of the coastal states when it comes to the management and conservation of resources. The coast guard of a coastal state could board and check the relevant documents of vessels fishing in the waters near its coast if they violate these laws and regulations. It could even detain the fishermen. But under no circumstances, should the fishermen (or other people on board the vessels) be subjected to corporal punishment and imprisonment.
Moreover, Manila has failed to honor the regional order. The UNCLOS says the disputing countries should resolve the issue of overlapping economic zone boundaries through agreements on the basis of international law in order to achieve an equitable outcome. In case the disputing countries fail to reach an agreement, they should try to work out a provisional arrangement and, during the transition stage, both sides should avoid taking unilateral actions that could hinder the possibility of a final agreement.
The Nansha Islands are within 400 nautical miles of all the countries locked in the South China Sea disputes. Since China has sovereignty over the islands, its duly exclusive economic zone overlaps with those of the other disputing countries. So it’s important that Manila faces up to a sea boundary delimitation dispute with Beijing.
To maintain regional stability and to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea through peaceful means, China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. Beijing’s proposal of “shelving the disputes and conducting joint exploration” got positive response from the disputing countries and praise from the international community. This could be regarded as a provisional arrangement for the ultimate resolution of the disputes.
But using its advantageous geographical position and assuming that the disputed areas are part of its territory, the Philippines has been seizing Chinese fishing vessels and detaining Chinese fishermen. Such provocative actions by the Philippines are worsening the already tense atmosphere in the region.
It should thus be clear to the international community that Manila, not Beijing, has violated the DOC and the UNCLOS, as well as further damaged the fragile Sino-Philippine relations. And justice chooses those who choose to side with it.
Contributed by Li Jieyu (China Daily)
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