Philippines opposes Malaysia, China claims in disputed South China Sea

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 11 2020 06:25 PM | Updated as of Mar 11 2020 06:56 PM

MANILA - The Philippines has rejected Malaysia’s petition to extend the limits of its continental shelf in the South China Sea, invoking a landmark ruling that invalidated China's sweeping claims in the disputed waters.

The Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations said the area covered by Malaysia's submission covers features within the Kalayaan Island Group over which the Philippines has sovereignty.

"The area also overlaps with the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of the Republic of the Philippines is measured, and over which the Government of the Republic of the Philippines intends to make a submission at a future time," the Philippine Mission said in a note verbale dated March 6, 2020.

Malaysia’s submission is projected from portions of North Borneo over which the Philippines has never relinquished its sovereignty, it added.

In December 2019, Malaysia submitted a petition to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) to extend its continental shelf beyond the 200-nautical mile limit from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured in the disputed South China Sea.

"This is a partial submission for the remaining portion of the continental shelf of Malaysia beyond 200 nautical miles in the northern part of the South China Sea. Malaysia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam had on 6 May 2009 made a joint submission for a portion of the 2 States’ continental shelf, in the southern part of the South China Sea," Malaysia said.

Malaysia's submission irked the Chinese government, saying it "seriously infringed [upon] China's sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the South China Sea.

"The Chinese government seriously requests the commission not to consider the submission by Malaysia," the Permanent Mission of China to the UN said in a note verbale dated Dec. 12, 2019.

The Philippines also dismissed China's position to Malaysia's petition, saying it is inconsistent with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that allocates maritime rights to member states.

In a separate note verbale, the Philippine Mission said the Philippines had sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal.

The area off Zambales is the site of a roughly 2-month standoff between the Philippines and China in 2012, where Chinese vessels blocked Filipino fishermen from the traditional fishing grounds. 

It triggered the Philippines' filing of an arbitration case against China before a UN-backed tribunal at The Hague in January 2013, seeking to invalidate Beijing's excessive 9-dash line claim over nearly all of the South China Sea. 

In July 2016, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and declared that both Filipino and Chinese fishermen have traditional fishing rights over the Scarborough Shoal. 

China continues to ignore the ruling. 

"The Tribunal conclusively settled the issue of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea," it said.

"The Tribunal ruled that claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction that exceed the geographic and substantive limits of maritime entitlements under UNCLOS, are without lawful effect," it added.

The Director of the UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea called the Philippine note verbale on China’s response as “legally significant.”

In a text message, Dr. Jay Batongbacal pointed out that the Philippines “genuinely invoked the Arbitration Award in a proper and relevant venue against China's persistent illegal claims in the South China Sea” and how the Philippines stated the intention to claim an extended continental shelf claim (i.e., beyond 200 nautical miles) to the seabed around the Spratly Islands, which is likewise consistent with the allocation of entitlements to maritime zones spelled out in the Award.”

“The (note verbale) demonstrates how the Award is properly and correctly used,” Batongbacal said.

On the note verbale on Malaysia’s claim, Batongbacal explained that the Philippines simply stated “the fact that the area claimed by Malaysia is also subject to a prospective Philippine claim.”

“Notably the (note verbale) is not as directly antagonistic in its wording as the Philippines' previous protest against the 2009 (Malaysia) and (Vietnam) submissions,” Batongbacal said.

“This indicates that the door may be opening for coordination between the Philippines, Malaysia and possibly Vietnam regarding their respective continental shelf claims in the South China Sea, which makes sense since all 3 so far agree that maritime jurisdiction in the South China Sea should be allocated and divided in accordance with the South China Sea Arbitration Award,” he added. - With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News