No sovereignty, no China gas deal: Philippine judge

Reuters, MANILA

Tue, Mar 06, 2018 - Page 5

Any deal between the Philippines and a Chinese firm to jointly explore for gas in the Reed Bank of the South China Sea is to be illegal unless China recognizes the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereign rights there, a Philippine judge said yesterday.

Manila has identified two areas in the crowded waterway suitable for joint exploration and the two countries seek a way to tackle the diplomatic and legal headache of jointly exploring in the waters, but without addressing the issue of sovereignty.

The Reed Bank is claimed by both sides, but international law says it falls within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

China says it falls within the so-called “nine-dash line” on maps recording its historic rights.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said it was legal for the Department of Energy to talk to state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) as a possible subcontractor.

“There’s no problem as long as CNOOC will recognize that that is our exclusive economic zone,” he told news channel ANC in an interview. “But that is the problem, because CNOOC will not recognize [Philippine jurisdiction].”

Carpio was among the lawyers involved in the Philippines’ legal challenge against China, which Manila brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2013.

The tribunal, in its 2016 ruling, invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claim, making clear that the Reed Bank fell within the Philippines’ EEZ, and that Manila had sovereign rights to resources there.

China is a signatory to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but it does not recognize the 2013 court ruling.

“The stumbling block has always been the insistence of China that we recognize their sovereign rights,” Carpio said. “We cannot do that anymore because there’s already a ruling. And the [Philippine] Constitution says the state shall protect its marine wealth in its exclusive economic zone — it’s very specific.”

Any potential deals between Manila and Beijing should be agreed with a company and not the Chinese government, Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque said last week.