Binding rules

Amid the increasing geopolitical turmoil, the need for nations to abide by international law and the value of the peaceful resolution of conflicts stand out as the sole solution for a certain future.

The government’s position of standing firm on enforcing the provisions of the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling while keeping the lines open for dialogue is getting the support of the community of nations.

The United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Defense, Baroness Annabel Goldie, said, “Part of the strength which the Philippines can demonstrate to the rest of the world is that they have friends — that it is not alone.”

Thus, unlike the previous position of giving priority to preventing strained relations with a neighbor, the stand on enforcing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, which is the global Charter on the delineation of boundaries, is now an issue recognized by other nations after the Philippines made clear its intention to defend it.

Despite its soft approach, the previous regime had made clear that enforcement of the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim was inevitable.

China’s position was that in seeking arbitration, the Philippines had turned its back on an agreement to settle disputes through bilateral negotiations under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties, or DoC, in the West Philippine Sea.

Beijing had said the DoC seeks to settle the maritime disputes through negotiations, an agreement that was “affirmed many times.”

“Bilateral documents between China and the Philippines and relevant provisions in the DoC are mutually reinforcing and constitute a binding agreement, by which both sides have chosen to settle the relevant disputes through negotiation,” according to China.

It added that the Philippines’ breach of its solemn commitment was a deliberate act of bad faith.

China exhibited bad faith when it started to build artificial islands in the disputed waters after the 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff.

The actions of China then forced the Philippines to question Beijing’s claim to practically the entire WPS.

China, however, is now accusing the Philippines of provocation for enforcing the international ruling.

“They can’t term provocative our action to patrol our 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone; we have the right to fish in the area. They are the ones who are intruding, so how can it be called provocation,” said Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro.

Baroness Goldie said after a discussion with Philippine officials that Britain wants the Philippines to “feel supported” as it faces the threat of China.

“When a wrong is done, it’s important that people don’t feel isolated. We want the Philippines to feel supported, and that’s part of my visit here,” she said.

Goldie said the UK and the Philippines are “aligned in wanting to stand up for international law, wanting to have the UNCLOS both respected and implemented.”

Several countries have committed to the Philippines to maintain the freedom of navigation in the WPS. The United States uses internationally accepted norms on maritime rights since it has yet to sign UNCLOS.

China, in insisting on the DoC, glosses over the fact that the rules are non-binding and are a precursor to the Code of Conduct, which will be the main document on the central undertaking regarding territorial friction.

The CoC has been tied up in negotiations for the past 20 years due to stipulations that China wanted to include.

Civilized discussions on the problems confronting the world should now not only be the norm but a requirement for peaceful coexistence.

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