3 years later, China compliant with only 2 of 11 parts of arbitration ruling
MANILA, Philippines — Three years after the Hague-based tribunal issued a landmark ruling on the South China Sea arbitration, Beijing is in compliance with just two of the 11 actionable findings of the ruling.
The United Nations-backed tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines in its July 2016 ruling, invalidating China’s sweeping historic claims over the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.
The Duterte administration, however, has played down the victory in hopes of seeking stronger ties with Beijing. It has also preferred a bilateral mechanism to hash out issues on the West Philippine Sea.
Washington-based think tank Asia Maritime Transprency Initiative has released an assessment of China’s compliance with the actionable parts of the ruling.
So far, Beijing has only complied with two findings — granting access to Filipino fishermen at Scarborough or Panatag Shoal and stopping its island-building activities in the Spratly Islands.
Allowing Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal
According to the AMTI report, allowing Filipino fishermen to enter Scarborough Shoal is the one aspect of the arbitral award that China is “most clearly in compliance.”
The tribunal concluded that fishermen from the Philippines, China and other countries had traditional fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal.
The think tank noted that China Coast Guard vessels stationed at the shoal started allowing Filipino fishing vessels to operate along the exterior of the area by the latter part of 2016.
Filipino fishermen, however, are still not allowed to fish inside the lagoon.
“That remains the case today, though the situation remains tense amid frequent reports of harassment and intimidation of Filipino fishers by the Chinese law enforcement personnel at the feature,” the report read.
President Rodrigo Duterte recently claimed that he made a “verbal” fishing agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in 2016.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., however, said he was not informed of this verbal agreement. There was also no document signed between the two leaders.
Former Rep. Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna) released a documentary in March, however, showing supposed harrassment of Filipino fishermen at Scarborough, which is also called Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc.
China stopped its island-building activities
The tribunal found that Beijing has been conducting massive land reclamation activities on Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef since late 2013.
Through its island-building campaign, Beijing violated its commitment under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to protect and preserve marine environment.
China finished its dredging and landfill work in the Spratly Islands by late 2016 but Beijing might have run out of space for new land reclamation activities, the AMTI reported.
“It could be argued that some of China’s ongoing activities, for instance the installation of monitoring stations on reefs in the Paracels, are still illegally damaging marine habitat without proper environmental impact assessments,” it said.
Technically, Beijing is now in compliance with this part of the ruling, adding the fact that the latest report of island-building in the South China Sea was in mid-2017 on the Paracel chain.
“That could change, however, should China launch new dredging or landfill work at Scarborough Shoal or elsewhere,” the report read.
In 2018, China deployed anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming equipment on its “big three” islands in the Spratlys — Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs.
Mischief or Panganiban Reef is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as ruled by the arbitral tribunal.
China did not participate in the arbitral case and rejects the ruling.