Foreign policy options in the South China Sea
by Amb. Jose V. Romero, Jr., PH.D

China’s rapidly rising food and energy requirements its rise as a major oil importer, its voracious appetite for the bounties of the seas motivated the National People’s Congress in 1992 to issue a “Law on the Territorial Waters and Their Contiguous Areas” that claimed 80 percent of the South China Sea, a claim that has been challenged by other countries such as Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia. Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam, all have conflicting maritime claims with China somewhere in the East or South China Sea.

The South China Sea issue is both an “energy” and a “territory” problem simultaneously in an energyshort. Apart from its teeming supply of marine products lie in its seabed substantial reservoirs of oil, which all the power of the region covet. Moreover through its waters run shipping lanes to and from the Persian Gulf that carry 80 percent and more of Northeast Asia’s precious oil supply. This makes the area a very strategic seaway.

Suggested Foreign Policy options with the decision of the judges at The Hague awarding this country with its claims at the expense of China and Taiwan and the subsequent refusal of China to recognize the verdict this country and China have reached a diplomatic stalemate.

Give the situation how does one break the deadlock?

Some quarters are of the view that pursuing the claim of a few distant and largely undeveloped islands, reefs and shoals will only add more problems for the Philippines and therefore freeze our claims and go for bilateral negotiations. This seems to be the direction taken by this administration. It is hoped that the bilateral will exact from the superpower neighbour concessions which while not necessarily make up for the alleged intrusion of China into Philippine territory but can help to accelerate the development of this country. Concessional rates for the infrastructure and social overhead projects of this nation from the China sponsored Asian Infrastructure and Investment bank, joint development of energy and marine resources and the redirection of Chinese tourist to our shores are some items to be considered.

In brief the first policy option therefore is to pursue the Philippines claims is by diplomatic negotiation.

The second option is to follow the initiative taken by Indonesia with the cooperation and support of the CIDA in the workshops on Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea held in Indonesia some time ago. The workshops proposed some confidence-building measures from the claimant states for cooperation in navigation, shipping and communication, safety of marine traffic, marine scientific research and environmental protection and development of marine resources.

The third option is the suggestion of Professors Douglas Johnson and Mark Valencia, two eminent scholars on the Treaty of the Antarctic.

A cooperative scheme they suggested patterned after the Treaty of the Antarctic where an institutionalization of a cooperative regime can be a realistic solution to defuse conflicts. A demilitarized zone to evolve peace and cooperative development can be achieved with the freezing of territorial claims.

Membership in the Authority will consist of all the claimant states with other states which might be directly or indirectly affected as associate members.

A treaty establishing the Sprat lys International Authority would provide for peaceful transit of all vessels through the waters. The authority could promote international cooperation in scientific research in cooperation with relevant international organizations as now provided in the UNCLOS.

In brief, confidencebuilding measures can be achieved through an agreement to:

1) Freeze all territorial claims

2) Renounce the use of force and commit themselves to settle all disputes only by peaceful means.

3) Cooperate in the regime of the Spratlys International Authority

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