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Dumaguete City, PhilippinesWednesday, February 20, 2013
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China rejects UN arbitration
on contested sea

MANILA – China officially rejected yesterday a Philippine move to bring long-running territorial issues over the South China Sea before a U.N. arbitration tribunal, saying the Philippine’s claim was legally infirm and carried unacceptable allegations against Beijing.

However, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the arbitration process would proceed even if China would decide to ignore it. Chinese experts have asserted otherwise.

China’s move has been widely expected. Beijing has preferred one on one negotiations with other rival claimant countries over the resource-rich waters, called the West Philippine Sea, that have long been a source of diplomatic and maritime tensions.

The Philippines initiated an arbitration process under the UNCLOS on January 22 to try to declare as “illegal” China’s expansive claim to the South China Sea.

The DFA said Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing gave Beijing’s official response through a diplomatic note to Philippine diplomats at the DFA and at the same time returned the Philippines’ Statement of Notification and Claim outlining the complaint it filed before the U.N.

“The department stresses that China’s action will not interfere with the process of Arbitration initiated by the Philippines....The Arbitration will proceed under Annex VII of UNCLOS and the 5-member arbitration panel will be formed with or without China,” a DFA statement said.

The DFA said China’s note “reiterated its often stated position that it has indisputable sovereignty over the entire South China Sea encompassed by its 9-dash line claim.”

“This excessive claim is the core issue of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China,” the DFA said. “The Philippines remains committed to Arbitration which is a friendly, peaceful and durable form of dispute settlement that should be welcomed by all.”

Apart from China, members of Association of South East Asian Nations – Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia – and Taiwan have claims in the South China Sea.

The Philippines has maintained that a rules-based approach is the only legitimate way in addressing disputes through a legal framework such as the UNCLOS.

UNCLOS is a 1982 accord by 163 countries that aims to govern the use of offshore areas and sets territorial limits of coastal states. The Philippines and China are both signatories to the treaty.

China is citing historical entitlements as basis for its huge claims over the waters, a strategic sealane dotted with islands, shoals, cays, reefs and rock formations and is believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.

Many have feared the conflicts could be Asia's next flashpoint.*PNA

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