Editor's Pick South China Sea: Waters of Contention

PH questions China’s 9-dash line map before UN court

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario


THE Philippine government decided Tuesday to ask the United Nations arbitration tribunal to declare as illegal China’s nine-dash line map that covers a large part of country’s territory in the South China Sea including the disputed Spratlys group of islands and Bajo de Masinloc.

The decision was finalized in Tuesday’s National Security Council meeting, nine months after a standoff between China and Philippines at the Bajo de Masinloc, 124 nautical miles from Zambales in northwestern Philippines.

China has given notice to the Philippines that their three ships will stay permanently in the disputed rocks.

In a press briefing, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said, “The Philippines has taken the step of bringing China before an Arbitral Tribunal under Article 287 and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (WPS).”

Del Rosario said Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing was summoned and handed a note verbale informing China of the Philippine decision and given a copy of the Statement of Claim submitted to the U.N.


Statement of the Chinese Embassy in Manila:

On Jan 22nd , Ambassador Ma Keqing met upon request with Assistant Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines Theresa Lasaro. The latter submitted the Note Verbale that the Philippines will initiate arbitral proceedings of South China Sea issue. Ambassador Ma reiterated the principled position of the Chinese side, that China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in South China Sea and its adjacent waters. The Chinese side strongly holds the disputes on South China Sea should be settled by parties concerned through negotiations. This is also the consensus reached by parties concerned in the DOC(The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea).


Del Rosario summarized the highlights of the 19-page Notification and Statement of Claim:

  1. The Philippines asserts that China’s so-called nine-dash line claim that encompasses virtually the entire South China Sea/West Philippine Sea is contrary to UNCLOS and thus unlawful.
  2. Within the maritime area encompassed by the 9-dash line, China has also laid claim to, occupied and built structures on certain submerged banks, reefs and low tide elevations that do not qualify as islands under UNCLOS, but are parts of the Philippine continental shelf, or the international seabed. In addition, China has occupied certain small, uninhabitable coral projections that are barely above water at high tide, and which are “rocks” under Article 121 (3) of UNCLOS.
  3. China has interfered with the lawful exercise by the Philippines of its rights within its legitimate maritime zones, as well as to the aforementioned features and their surrounding waters.
  4. The Philippines is conscious of China’s Declaration of August 25, 2008 under Article 298 of UNCLOS (regarding optional exceptions to the compulsory proceedings), and has avoided raising subjects or making claims that China has, by virtue of that Declaration, excluded from arbitral jurisdiction.

Del Rosario said the Philippines expects the U.N tribunal to declare “that China’s maritime claims in the SCS based on its so-called nine-dash line are contrary to UNCLOS and invalid” and require “that China desist from activities that violate the rights of the Philippines in its maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea.”

Del Rosario also said that the Philippines expect the tribunal to requires China to bring its domestic legislation into conformity with its obligations under UNCLOS and declare that “China’s rights in regard to maritime areas in the South China Sea, like the rights of the Philippines, are those that are established by UNCLOS.”

Solicitor General Francis H. Jardeleza is the agent or legal representative for the Philippines in the arbitral proceedings. The lead counsel of the Philippines is Paul Reichler of Foley and Hoag LLP.