Jesus S. Domingo: Court decision on disputed islands will let us move on

The ambassador from the Philippines replies to an article from China's Ambassador last week on their rival claims to the South China Sea.
Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Photo / AFP
Crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Photo / AFP

The Philippines and China have enjoyed excellent relations spanning recorded history. Indeed, many Filipinos including myself have a degree of Chinese ancestry. It is a great source of pride and joy for me to see that there are many Kiwis of Asian descent in New Zealand, both Chinese and Filipino.

China's spectacular rise as an economic and political powerhouse, complementing its ancient cultural leadership, inspires us in the Asia-Pacific. This all-encompassing leadership in the community of nations is rightly recognised in the United Nations system through China's permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Accordingly, China's pronouncements on global issues usually make reference to international law and the UN system.

The recent article by my colleague H.E. Wang Lutong, Ambassador of China to New Zealand ( Herald, June 14), cites the case filed by the Philippines before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea.

I would like to focus on a main point of his op-ed piece that "China does not accept that the arbitration case instigated by the Philippines is an exercise of rights under international law". In sum, the act of filing of the case before the PCA is questioned.

In terms of military capabilities, we are quite the David to our neighbouring Goliath. We instead seek recourse to the rule of law, to international law, the very underpinning of the present global system. Our action also follows the dictum of beloved Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay: "Those who have less in life should have more in law."

I do not wish to reiterate the specific merits of our PCA case - readers may be already aware of the details or can readily reference them. I would just like to simply respond to the critique of our filing of the case by respectfully reminding that the PCA is a duly recognised tribunal under international law, and is a recognised mode of dispute settlement for the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, see Article 287). China and the Philippines are both founding members of the UN and state parties to the UNCLOS and PCA. The PCA has ruled that it has jurisdiction over the case filed by the Philippines. Fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member Vietnam has also filed action in the PCA. A decision by the PCA is expected in the coming days.

It is comforting to hear that China respects and adheres to international law and seeks only peace.

The Philippines treasures its deep and long-standing relationship with China. We respect China's global leadership - but to quote and paraphrase a recent movie and numerous historical statesmen: "With great power comes great responsibility."

It is comforting to hear that China respects and adheres to international law and seeks only peace. As both the Philippines and China are state parties to UNCLOS and the PCA, I look forward to the imminent decision of the court so we may both move ahead with regard to this issue.

We understand and respect New Zealand's view on this matter as not one of "taking sides" but rather of supporting continuing universal adherence to the rule of law, a rules-based international system and international law. New Zealand, and the Asia-Pacific region, for that matter, enjoy a thriving trade and investment relationship with China - whose foundation relies on a rules- and law-based global order. Thank you for your kind attention and understanding.

- NZ Herald

Jesus S. Domingo is Philippines Ambassador to New Zealand.

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