China and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Manila Bulletin, September 18, 2004 | Go to article overview

China and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea


PRESIDENT Arroyo returned from her state visit to China with a $1-billion package of aid, loans, and contracts and high hopes for economic cooperation and a number of agreements to transform the China Sea from being a region of conflict to a zone of peace. The agreements include a seismic study which would look into the oil potentials of the islands. But while the government is euphoric about the successful visit which has brought opportunities in the area of trade in both manufactured goods and agri-products, there is a disturbing note which requires urgent government response.

This refers to former Senator Leticia ShahaniEs concern about our "historic amnesia" vis-a-vis our position on the South China Sea issue. Shahani who was at one time undersecretary of foreign affairs emphasized the urgency of "doing our homework with China now." According to her, one of the greatest diplomatic threats facing the country today is the uncertain extent of the Philippine territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We need legislation that would delineate the extent of our waters and our EEZ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This is ironic, Shahani says, since the Philippine delegation to the Conference on the Law of the Sea championed in 1956 the inclusion of the archipelagic principle in the UNCLOS. And it was the late former Senator Arturo Tolentino who in 1982 signed the UNCLOS for the Philippines.

In 1995, China occupied and subsequently built structures on Mischief Reef and installed surveillance technology as well as sophisticated equipment so that it could become a potential naval base. According to then former defense secretary Orlando Mercado, the construction appeared to be part of the "creeping invasion" of China, a "creeping occupation," a "talk- and-take" technique.

Former ambassador Oscar Villadolid reiterates ShahaniEs "wake-up call" saying that the conflict between the Philippines and China is vastly more complicated than what the President in her recent visit to, and negotiations with, China has made it appear. It is further complicated because several ASEAN countries also claim ownership. In fact, the agreement to conduct pre-exploration to look into the petroleum potentials had prompted accusations from Vietnam. The latter states that these initiatives deviate from the 2002 agreement where China and several members of ASEAN agreed to refrain from activities that would increase tensions in the Spratlys. …

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