US Group Watching UNCLOS Action

10 February 2013

MANILA, Philippines --- If the Arbitral Tribunal goes against the Philippines in the latter's stand over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) territorial dispute with China, it will surely ''kill'' the ratification of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in Washington.

''If (UNCLOS) can't determine that (China's) nine-dash map is invalid, what can it do?'' Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, an American conservative think tank based in Washington DC, told Manila Bulletin during his visit in Manila.

''The debate (for the ratification of UNCLOS in the US) will be pretty much over. If UNCLOS is not worth enough that it can't declare something in keeping with its provisions, if they can't declare something as invalid, what is it?''

In initiating Arbitral Proceedings against the Chinese last month, the Philippines asserted, among others, that China's so-called nine-dash line claim that encompasses virtually the entire South China Sea/West Philippine Sea is contrary to UNCLOS and thus unlawful.

In this context, the Philippines requested the Arbitral Tribunal to issue a declaration that China's maritime claims in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea based on its so-called nine-dash line are contrary to UNCLOS and invalid.

The Philippines maintained that the Arbitral Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear and make an award because the dispute is about the interpretation and application by States Parties of their obligations under the UNCLOS.

The Law of the Sea Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.

Although the US helped shape the Convention and its subsequent revisions, and though it signed the 1994 Agreement on Implementation, it has not signed the Convention.

Early the previous year, the US Senate had 34 Republican Senators who have indicated their intention to vote against ratification of the Treaty if it comes to a vote. Since at least 2/3 of the 100 member Senate (at least 67 Senators) are required to ratify a treaty, consideration of the treaty was deferred again.

Lohman revealed that ''in the interest of full disclosure,'' the Heritage Foundation is opposed to UNCLOS and that its ratification by the US Congress is not likely to happen anytime soon.

He explained that this is primarily because the US simply abides by customary international law.

''We could enter into any arbitration with any country we wanted and have a discussion based on that or any agreement that we wanted,'' said Lohman. ''You don't need a big international convention like UNCLOS to do that.''

Nevertheless, he said what the Philippines is doing on UNCLOS is so important. ''That's why we should support what (the Philippines) is trying to do because they're calling for clarity on the Chinese claims,'' he said.

''We've urged the Chinese a couple of years ago to detail what the nine dash map stands for and we were very specific about it,'' Lohman remarked. ''But that did not work.''

''So the Philippines is taking it to the next step, taking it to legal procedure to make them clarify it,'' he said. ''(That is why) we need to get more on the side of the Philippines.