Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Lourdes Yparraguirre stressed this at the annual meeting of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), whose 167 parties include the Philippines and China.
“This threatens the integrity of the Convention, our constitution for the oceans,” a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs quoted Yparaguirre as saying, referring to China’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric and action in the South China Sea.
Yparaguirre said China's aggressive moves started in 2012 when it reneged on a mutual agreement to withdraw naval presence from Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, 124 nautical miles west of Luzon and some 800 nautical miles southeast of China’s nearest coast.
Since then, the DFA statement said China "has been in possession of the shoal, erecting a barrier to its entrance to prevent the access of Filipino fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds."
UNCLOS, adopted in 1982 and entered into force in 1994, defines the rights and responsibilities of states parties on their use of the world's oceans.
It established guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
Yparaguirre also noted China’s recent actions infringe on the Philippines' sovereignty and sovereign rights to its own exclusive economic zone.
Other agreements violated
Yparaguirre also scored China for violating not just the UNCLOS, but also:
- the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea
- the Convention on Biological Diversity
- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
She said China's violation involves its accelerated large scale ocean filling, or “reclamation” in several disputed features in the Spratly Islands, including:
- Johnson Reef
- McKennan Reef
- Mischief Reef
- Cuarteron Reef
- Gaven Reef
- Fiery Cross Reef.
"The last one alone expanded to 11 times its original area," the DFA said.
Pulverizing coral reefs
Yparaguirre said China "had to dredge out and pulverize entire systems of coral reefs that took many centuries to grow, reducing them into landfill, and thus devastating the already fragile marine ecosystem and biodiversity of the region by irreparably destroying the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.”
She also cited data from marine scientific experts that China’s destruction of the coral reef systems in the South China Sea and their transformation into over 800 hectares of landfill has resulted in an estimated economic loss of US$281 million annually.
But she added the tragedy to the environment is “incalculable."
“There should be no attempt to assert territorial or maritime claims through intimidation, coercion or force, including through unilateral and aggressive action such as massive, large scale land reclamation.
"There should be no pattern of forcing a change in the status quo in order to advance a so-called nine-dash line claim of undisputed sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea,” she said.
Preempting dispute settlement mechanism?
Yparaguirre also said China’s massive ocean filling activities may be meant to preempt - or change the status quo ahead of a ruling by the arbitral tribunal hearing the Philippines’ case impugning China’s so-called nine-dash line.
“If there is doubt and uncertainty on the limits of our adjacent maritime spaces affecting several States Parties in the region, and if bilateral consultations and negotiations have proven futile and one-sided because of lack of good faith, then the solution is the dispute settlement mechanism provided by UNCLOS and the UN Charter […] Arbitration under UNCLOS is a pacific and rules-based mode of settling disputes,” she said. — Joel Locsin/LBG, GMA News