Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spratly Islands status quo most favorable to China - Asian Center Professor Edgardo E. Dagdag

By Chanda Shahani

The non-resolution of the South China Sea dispute in the immediate future is most likely and this unresolved status quo is most favorable to the country with the most dominant military force, which is China, U.P. Diliman Asian Center Professor Edgardo E. Dagdag said in a presentation.

Speaking last October 15, 2011 at the National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taiwan, Professor Dagdag who is also concurrently the President of the Philippines-Taiwan Friendship Society, said that the current developments which reflects the Philippine position is as follows:
  • The Philippines is urging Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) member states to take a common stand and seek common positions with respect to addressing the concerns in the South China Sea.
  • It has lodged a diplomatic protest before the United Nations International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) agaisnt China's territorial claim over the whole SCS.
  • The Philippines says that it would defend its position in the SCS, and calls this the West Philippine Sea.
  • The Philippines is proposing that the SCS be converted into a Zone of Peace, Freedom, Friendship and Coioperation (ZPFF/C)
Highlights of the Philippines' ZPFF/C proposal
  • The disputed areas in the SCS would be segregated from the non-disputed areas in accordance with the UNCLOS.
  • Only the Spratly island and Paracels are considered the disputed areas.
  • The disputed areas would be enclaved and designated as Joint Cooperation Areas (JCA). It would be managed by a Joint Permanent Working Committee (JPWC) composed of claimants from the ASEAN. The JPWC would report to the ASEAN-China Senior Officials Meeting (SOM).
  • The JCA will be demilitarized. The military personnel will be replaced with police or coast guard personnel.
  • The undisputed areas shall remain under the jurisdiction of those countries whose rights are protected by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
  • A two-day meeting of the ASEAN maritime legal experts in Manila last Sept 2011 concluded that there is a legal basis for the Phil proposal.
  • ASEAN tasked its SOM to study further the Phil proposal and the results of the meeting of the ASEAN maritime legal experts and to submit its report to the Nov 2011 ASEAN summit meeting.
  • Sources from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs say that the Phil proposal has the support of Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia.
  • China’s reaction (Ambassador Liu Jianchao, Chinese Ambassador to the Phil): (a) The meeting of the ASEAN maritime legal experts is not an effective way to deal with the dispute; and (b) The ZOPFF/C concept of segregation is not feasible at this stage due to the claimants’ overlapping claims.
Professor Dagdag said that the increasing interest shown ny the Unitred States on the SCS issue will have the resulting effect of thee not be a peaceful resolution for the forseeable future. Moreover, China opposes the internationalization of the dispute and the involvement of non-claimant countries such as the United States.

He added that China is not likely to give up its announced preferred position which is to address the SCS issue through bilateral negotiations. This is a stumbling block to the immediate resolution of the SCS issue since ASEAN prefers a multilateral approach.

Professor Dagdag said that ASEAN ismore likely to press for the adoption of a regional code of conduct to address the issue. This projected stance would in all probability be supported by China but not the U.S.

He said that a recent conference on the Spratlys held in the Philippines on October, 2011 showed China's true mindset. Chinese academics declared that the UNCLOS cannot address the Spratlys issue. This is revealing, Professor Dagdag said, because “Chinese academics generally toe and articulate the 'official line'.”

He said the SCS issue will remain a big irritant in Philippines-China relations and will give the Philippines the reason to seek closer security relations with the U.S. To protect itself and its Kalayaan Island group claim.

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