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Eminent Persons' Lecture Series - Lecture by HE Mr Evan Garcia on "Issues of South China Sea and Future Prognosis: A Philippine Perspective"

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  • July 16, 2015
    Speeches and Lectures

    About the Speaker

    Evan P. Garcia is Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Philippines


    I would like to thank the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses for the kind invitation to be part of today’s discussion.

    I am immensely pleased and honored to join the list of Eminent Persons who have delivered lectures before and interact with the distinguished fellows and associates of this Institute on important and relevant issues.

    Dialogue and discussion

    I cannot overemphasize the importance of dialogue and the need to provide a venue for the open discussion of difficult and sensitive subjects.

    Through dialogue and discussion, we can hope to gain a fuller understanding and better appreciation of the immense challenges that confront and confound nations and the international community.

    In the multiplicity of perspectives and in the discussion of diverse ideas, we can seek and identify points of convergence and common action.

    Indeed, even opposing views do not necessarily lead parties to a standstill. Neithershould they lead to a standoff. On the contrary, when properly harnessed and framed, divergent views – for the willing and for those with an open mind - can create trust, mutual understanding and the political space for moving forward together.

    Through genuine dialogue and forthright discussion, we avoid the needless clash brought about by intransigent positions and – together - harness the power of collective critical thinking.

    Certainly, the ASEAN-India Centre and the Institute of Defence and Security Analyses play this critical and vital role: In encouraging the open exchange of ideas, the Centre and Institute serve as thought drivers that help inform both foreign policy makers and the public alike.

    In this context, I welcome this opportunity to share with you the Philippine perspective on issues on the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea.

    Asia: New Realities and Evolving Challenges

    Asia has undergone and continues to undergo fundamental changes that have invited the world’s renewed attention and focus.

    Despite the diversity and differences in political and economic systems, it has transformed itself into a vibrant region thatnow encompasses almost half of the world’s population, threeof the world’s top 10 economies (China, Japan and India), more than a fifth of the world’s GDP, a third of the world’s exports and almost half of the world’s maritime tonnage.

    Should Asia sustain the momentum of its growth , the region is projected to achieve an even greater role as an epicenter of global prosperity by 2050, producing over half of the world’s GDP and accounting for half of the world’s output, trade and investment, by that time according to the Asian Development Bank.

    Indeed, the objectives of achieving progress and prosperity in Asia are becoming less and less aspirational in nature and the desire to further strengthen economic performance is becoming more and more a defining basis for closer relations between countries in the region.

    But while Asia’s economic ascent appears on track, China’s recent stock market problem notwithstanding, serious challenges remain and the onward advancement can be derailed.

    Political insecurity and simmering tensions within the region threaten Asia’s dynamism. The situation in the DPRK remains a continuing concern and disputes over territory and maritime entitlements – including in the South China Sea and the Philippines’ portion of it, the West Philippine Sea- are becoming red flags for possible flashpoints.

    That the power relations in the Asian region continue to be in a state of flux complicates attempts to address both traditional and emerging challenges to stability in the region.We are witnessing now the new reality of a regional architecture with an increasing number of players and stakeholders being reconstructed and built along many lines of engagement.

    We see the rise of China that has stronger economic clout, greater political influence and developing military might; a United States that has rebalanced itself to Asia and is reinforcing its position as a Pacific power; a resurgent Japan that is reassessing its own self-defense posture; an India that is looking and acting East; a Russia that is increasing its capabilities in the region; and an ASEAN that is on its way to establishing its own Economic Community.

    Against this backdrop of relations, the imperatives for economic interdependence provide the driving incentive for nations to be drawn together, but the compulsion to assert sovereign interests at the same time also acts as apowerful force keeping certain regional shareholders apart. Nowhere is the interplay of these factors more evident and critical than in the South China Sea.

    Economic progress alongside geopolitical security tensions, this is the East Asian dichotomy, our new reality with which we must all grapple.

    South China Sea: Resources and Access

    Asia’s economic success rides heavily on the freedom of navigation and overflight of its waters, particularly in the South China Sea.

    Both commercial and naval vessels ply these waters serving as a crucial nautical highway, the South China Sea is nothing short of being a vital artery in connecting and integrating production bases and markets.

    Consider the following:

    • As a semi-enclosed sea, the SCS provides rich fishing grounds for the nationals of littoral states. Over 500 million people in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines live within 100 miles of the SCS. Many of them depend on the SCS for sustenance and livelihood.
    • The SCS currently accounts for one-tenth of the world’s global fisheries catch and hosts a multi-billion dollar fishing industry. The SCS also has ecological importance. The coral reefs in the SCS provide breeding ground for high-value fisheries and support the sustainability of the waters as fishing grounds.
    • The SCS serves as trade channels and economic lifelines used for global commercial shipping energy transportation and naval fleets.
    • Its importance as a Sea Lane of Communication (SLOC) cannot be over-stated: By cargo tonnage, more than half of the world’s merchant fleet passes through SCS; around 40,000 ships pass through the SCS every year. Sea traffic is three times that of the Suez Canal and 15 times that of the Panama Canal.
    • For international trade shipping in the SCS, goods volume of raw material and food takes up more than 90% of total freight volume.
    • The SCS is one of the most important energy trade routes in the world with over a third of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) passing through it annually. Large quantities of coal from Australia and Indonesiaalso pass through the SCS to markets around the world, especially to China, Japan and India. These coal shipments include both steam coal used for generating electricity and process heat as well as metallurgical coal that is a key ingredient in primary steel production.
    • The SCS is said to have11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in proved and probable reserves.

    South China Sea: The Stakes Involved

    Clearly, the interests of many nations come to a head in the SCS. Given the resources and the access issues involved, exercising the ability to explore, develop and utilize the resources therein – or preventing others from doing so - constitutes a major point of sovereign concern for many nations.

    The dispute in the South China Sea - rooted in conflicting territorial claims over islands, rocks and reefs above water at high tide as well as conflicting maritime claims over maritime zones –directly involve Brunei Darussalam, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Viet Nam, and the Chinese province of Taiwan.

    Increasingly aggressive, belligerent and expansive behavior by one claimant, in particular, namely China, is provocative and further complicates an already tense milieu.

    Beijing’s recent actions are clearly intended to change the status quo in the South China Sea to its unilateral advantage.

    China asserts “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and waters of almost the entire South China Sea as seen in its 9-dashed line claim.

    These 9-dashes - with no corresponding fixed coordinates - form a U-shaped area of the South China Sea. These encompass and enclose almost 90% of the entire South China Sea. China’s 9-dash line claim seeks to convert the South China Sea into Beijing’s lake.

    Asserting its “indisputable sovereignty” over the 9-dashed line area, China is preventing other countries from exercising their maritime rights over South China Sea’s waters which otherwise would have been allowed under the United Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

    As we all know, UNCLOS provides for the rights and responsibilities of nations with regard to the world’s waters. UNCLOS was established precisely to give order to the use of the world’s waters and to regulate the behavior of States in the use of these waters.

    With 166 States Parties, UNCLOS is considered the constitution of the world’s oceans, adherence to the principles and provisions of which are key to the sustainable and orderly use of the world’s waterways, including in the South China Sea.

    UNCLOS prescribes the behavior and provides the rights and entitlements of littoral states and other stakeholders in various zones – from the territorial sea, to the contiguous zone, to the 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone, the continental shelf and in the areas beyond national jurisdiction.

    Yet with its 9-dash line assertion in the South China Sea, Chinaeffectively appropriates to itself the enjoyment and exercise of maritime rights in the islands and features and all the waters surrounding them, to the exclusion and detriment of the littoral states’ and even of states desiring innocent passage or overflight.

    In plain and simple terms, the 9-dash lines has this effect on the maritime rights of the littoral states in the South China Sea: The Philippines loses about 80% of its EEZ facing the West Philippine Sea; Malaysia loses also about 80% of its EEZ facing the South China Sea, as well as most of its active gas and oil fields in the same area; Vietnam on the other hand loses about 50% of its total EEZ; Brunei Darussalam loses about 90% of its total EEZ; and Indonesia loses about 30% of its EEZ facing the South China Sea in Natuna Islands, whose surrounding waters comprise the largest gas field in Southeast Asia.

    Recently, China has likewise strongly asserted itself in the South China Sea by accelerating the building of artificial islands through massive reclamation over disputed submerged features. Now, China’s clear intent to build on these artificial islands and to militarize the area has become apparent.

    This has resulted in counter-actions from other statesthat do not recognize China’s assertion of sovereignty over these features.

    An unstable South China Sea does not advance the interest of any claimant state nor of the international community. Instability in the South China Sea is not a permanent condition that the Philippines desires. What the Philippines aspires to is to bring greater stability and more predictable behavior in the South China Sea based on the rule of law.

    It is with this goal in mind that the Philippines is undertaking a two-pronged approach to the situation in the South China Sea grounded firmly on adherence to the rule of law: firstly,tension reduction; and secondly, peaceful settlement of disputes.

    Philippine diplomacy and tension reduction

    The Philippines seeks to reduce tension between and among the claimants of the South China Sea and is harnessing its entire diplomatic machinery to meaningfully engage stakeholders in bilateral and multilateral fora.

    As a founding member of the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines is committed to easing friction between and among states in dispute.

    In disputes, conflict should never be considered inevitable. Disputes should be an opportunity to engage concerned parties in dialogue.

    In the South China Sea issue, the Philippines placesimportance on the building of a rules-based regional architecture, given the complexity of the issue and the number of stakeholders involved both within and outside the South China Sea.

    While the region continues to evolve, ASEAN’s central role – and its relations with dialogue partners – will continue to be vital. And indeed, ASEAN has provided the opportunity for the Philippines to pursue the reduction of tension in the South China Sea.

    The Declaration on the Code of Conduct (DOC) in the South China Sea brought ASEAN and China together to determine ways of addressing the simmering tension in the area.

    While there is room for greater positive and practical results based on the DOC, the timely conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea remains unattainable owing to China’s seeming reluctance to engage in frank and open discussion through multilateral negotiations.

    The Philippines is nevertheless committed to pursue this track.

    Diplomacyand the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes

    The Philippines believes firmly that the international legal framework exists to provide better clarity to issues in dispute and that, equally as important, this international legal framework exists to encourage States to participate meaningfully and achieve the peaceful settlement of disputes.

    The Philippines places great faith on the equalizing power of international law. Resort to the rule of law allows small countries, such as my own, to stand on an equal footing with wealthier and more powerful States, confident in the conviction that right prevails over might.

    As such, the Philippines is undertaking the legal track, provided for under UNCLOS, to seek better clarity of the issues involved in the South China Sea.

    I wish to point out that we resorted to arbitration after our many bilateral exchanges with China to resolve our dispute did not prosper. China has unreasonably insisted that the Philippines must recognize and accept its sovereignty over the entire South China Sea before meaningful discussion of other issues could take place.

    It has been claimed as well – almost as gospel truth by certain Chinese officials and academicians – that Asians do not go to court against each other. Singapore’s Ambassador at large Tommy Koh pointed out that this is incorrect, citing that Southeast Asian countries have a positive track record of referring their disputes to the international legal process, among them: The PreahVihear case between Cambodia and Thailand; The Sipadan and Ligatan case between Indonesia and Malaysia; The PedraBranca/PulauBatuPuteh case between Malaysia and Singapore; and, the Myanmar Bangladesh case.

    Additionally, Ambassador Koh also cited the positive attitude of South Asia towards dispute settlement, with India leading the way.

    Former ITLOS President ShunjiYanai shares Ambassador Koh’s observation, saying that based on the cases submitted to the ICJ and ITLOS, Asian States have become important and active clients of third-party settlement procedures, especially in the field of law of the sea, implying how important the rule of law at sea is for states in Asia.

    The Philippines too is mindful that under the 1982 Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes, recourse to judicial settlement of legal disputes, should not be considered an unfriendly act between States.

    With these objectives in mind, the Philippines brought the issue of the South China Sea for arbitration under the UNCLOS.

    Such an effort deserves support of stakeholders and the international community because the case seeks to clarifyissues on the rights and entitlements of States regarding in the South China Sea.

    The arbitration case likewise deserves support because the proceedings will serve to strengthen the role of UNCLOS as the constitution of the world’s oceans. Resort to arbitration will also strengthen the international legal regime upon which more and more states have been resorting too.

    As I indicated earlier, India, in particular, has shown the way for Member States to adhere to the rule of law and to seek the peaceful settlement of international disputes.

    In bringing the case of the Maritime Boundary in the Bay of Bengal to court, India has respected fully the decision of the ITLOS.

    Apart from this case, India has, by its own efforts also sought to settle border disputes peacefully as in the case of the Land Border Agreement between Bangladesh and India which was recently ratified.

    The South China Sea dispute, because of its global significance, has attracted increasing concern from the international community as well. ASEAN, the EU, some individual European countries, the G-7, the United States, Japan and India have all expressed such concerns. They have also called for the reduction of tensions, for the avoidance of destabilizing activities and for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

    The Philippine Arbitration Case

    In bringing the case to arbitration, the Philippines wishes to make it clear that is not seeking a resolution of territorial sovereignty issues.

    The Philippines understands that the jurisdiction of the tribunal convened under UNCLOS is limited to questions that concern the law of the sea.

    In bringing the case to arbitration, the Philippines holds that the China’s 9-dash line claims are illegal, expansive and arbitrary.

    The Philippines claims are as follows:

    1. China is not entitled to exercise what it refers to as “historic rights” over the waters, seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of its entitlements under the Convention
    2. The so-called nine dash line has no basis whatsoever under international law insofar as it purports to define the limits of China’s claim to “historic rights”;
    3. The various maritime features relied upon by China as a basis upon which to assert its claims in the South China Sea are not islands that generate entitlement to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf. Rather, some are “rocks” within the meaning of Article 121, paragraph 3; others are low-tide elevations; and still others are permanently submerged. As a result, none are capable of generating entitlements beyond 12NM, and some generate no entitlements at all. China’s recent massive reclamation activities cannot lawfully change the original nature and character of these features
    4. China has breached the Convention by interfering with the Philippines’ exercise of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction; and,
    5. China has irreversibly damaged the regional marine environment, in breach of UNCLOS, by its destruction of coral reefs in the South China Sea, including areas within the Philippines’ EEZ, by its destructive and hazardous fishing practices, and by its harvesting and poaching of endangered species.

    Philippine Aspirations

    In pursuing this arbitration case, the Philippines believes that a ruling will benefit not only the direct stakeholders but also the entire international community.

    By ruling on the validity of the 9-dash lines, the maritime entitlements for the littoral states and those that depend on the South China Sea as an international waterway will be clarified.

    This is an initiative, therefore, that deserves the support of the entire international community.

    It is important for all concerned friends, including India, to do their utmost to promote a regional security architecture built squarely on the rule of law, and in the case of the South China Sea, on the UNCLOS.

    The dialogue-centered approach espoused by India to security cooperation in our region remains relevant, bearing in mind the diversity and plurality of security systems in the Asia-Pacific.

    That India has an important role to play in this regard has been recognized. In fact, India has been urged by ASEAN to assume a greater role in the regional security architecture.

    India recognized this cap and launched its Look East Policy over two decades ago. This was followed by the Act East Policy which India announced recently.

    India’s efforts to implement its Act East Policy through concrete action is commendable, particularly one promoting greater connectivity between our regions, including through the successful implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity.

    The day when our people travel more frequently between our countries will be the day when India and ASEAN will cease being relative strangers to one another.

    Indeed, only when we join together in the endeavors that strengthen the international legal framework and encourage nations to resort to the mechanisms identified can we hope to have a more peaceful and stable world.

    It is during these times that a country that is known for erecting walls must recognize the importance of building bridges of dialogue.

    The Philippines’commitment to the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of disputes remains steadfast.

    India can count on the Philippines to advance this principled position, as well.

    The Philippines is confident of India’s steadfastness in supporting the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

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