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The Philippines Seeks Maritime Arbitration In Its Panatag Shoal Dispute with China

Monday, January, 28, 2013


The Philippines is seeking arbitration in its recent trouble resulting from Chinese fishing vessels blocking Panatag Shoal/Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine/South China Sea.  According to China, however, arbitration is off the table.  Liang Guanglie, the Chinese Defense Minister, has announced that China agrees to “keep the lines of communications open” because of the Declaration of Conduct in the South China Sea that China signed.  According to this Declaration of Conduct, China, as well as other countries with land bordering shared waterways, have agreed to deal with any territorial disputes peacefully.

However, the dispute that has prompted the need for arbitration is no closer to reaching a resolution.  Last month, Chinese fishing vessels roped off the mouth of the Scarborough Shoal lagoon to prevent other fishermen from getting in.  Now, through the use of buoys and ropes, the entire entrance to the reef is inaccessible to Philippine vessels.  Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin announced in a news conference that the country’s Coast Guard reported the roped off entrance and the Defense Department is now discussing the steps that should be taken to deal with the situation. 

“It might be meant to prevent us from getting in because they are claiming [the shoal], but, of course, we are also claiming that it is ours,” Gazmin said. “We need to talk to secure a solution. Our talks will continue.”

The Philippines has recently been a part of a multiple nation push for a new Code of Conduct that would prevent the claims of the area’s different countries from allowing territorial claims to result in armed clashes.  The countries involved in this Code of Conduct would be Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan—all of which have land bordering the West Philippine Sea.

However, according to Communications Secretary, Ricky Carandang, such a code would be difficult to construct without specific ground rules regarding activity related to exploration.  “While we may be open to some way of jointly exploring those areas and jointly exploiting those areas, I think the first thing that needs to be done is we need to have a binding code of conduct,” said Carandang. “So [joint exploration] remains an aspiration until certain agreements can be reached with other claimant countries.”

If China continues to deny the Philippines the arbitration it seeks, perhaps drafting such a Code of Conduct would assist with the current dispute over the roped-off Panatag Shoal/Scarborough Shoal area.