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Philippines Asks UN To Mediate South China Sea Dispute

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

30 January 2013

The Philippines Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Albert del Rosario has notified China that it has applied to the United Nation's (UN) Court of Arbitration to mediate in the long-running dispute on the two countries' overlapping maritime territory claims in the South China Sea.

Announcing the initiation of proceedings to reporters in Manila, Rosario said: “The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime disputes with China. To this day, a solution is still elusive."

The Philippines is seeking international validation of its claims that Chinese actions "to defend its national interests" in the South East China sea have contravened its commitments in the UN's legally-binding Third Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into force in 1994. There is presently 164 countries (including China) party to the convention, which sets rules on maritime boundaries and the use of natural resources in maritime areas.

Despite signing the convention, during the past two decades, China has resolutely defended its claim to almost the entire area of the South East China Sea. While a resolution is agreed to be some way off, in recent years, the increased presence of Chinese military vessels and claims of infractions in disputed waters have prompted international concerns that the matter could escalate into violence.

The Philippines has decided to launch proceedings despite the deleterious impact the decision is likely to have on its economic relations with China, its third most significant trading partner. Previously, China had condemned attempts by other nations from outside of the region to diffuse the dispute and instead consulted with involved nations under the auspices of the 10-party Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The talks were expected to lead to the conclusion of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea but these discussions are now expected to be shelved following the commencement of legal proceedings.

The ongoing dispute caused tensions to surface at the ASEAN's meeting in July 2012, when - for the first time in the Association's history - members failed to agree on a concluding statement at its plenary. At the meeting, the Philippines met resistance from hosts Cambodia when it proposed to include a summary on incidents that had occurred in disputed waters, as well as a commitment to conclude the Code of Conduct in ASEAN's closing communique.

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