Vietnam supports PH position: UN tribunal has jurisdiction on South China Sea dispute

The Inbox

By Ellen T. Tordesillas, VERA Files

The Philippine case against China’s nine-dash line before the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal gained support from Vietnam in a statement it submitted to the court in The Hague on Thursday.

The Vietnam Foreign Ministry said the tribunal has jurisdiction to settle disputes concerning the interpretation of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In a press briefing Thursday, Vietnam Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Le Hai Binh said: “To protect its legal rights and interests in the East Sea which may be affected in the South China Sea Arbitration case, Vietnam has expressed its position to the Tribunal regarding this case, and requested the Tribunal to pay due attention to the legal rights and interests of Vietnam.”

These include Vietnam’s rights and interests over geographical features of the Paracel Islands and Spratly islands, he said. China calls the Paracel Islands Xisha and Vietnam, Hoàng Sa. Spratlys is known as Nansha in China, Truong Sa in Vietnam and Kalayaan in the Philippines.

“It is Vietnam’s consistent position to  fully reject China’s claim over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes and the adjacent waters, as well as China’s claiming  of ‘historic rights’ to the waters, sea-bed and subsoil within the ‘dotted line’ unilaterally stated by China,” the Vietnamese spokesperson said.

Vietnam’s submission in the U.N. court was made a day before the United States Department of State released a 26-page report titled “Limits in the Seas – China Maritime Claims in the South China Sea.”

Philippine Foreign Affairs Spokesman Charles Jose said Manila is still studying Vietnam’s submission and “its possible implications.”

A source in the Department of Foreign Affairs, however said, they are “very thankful” to Vietnam.

Last Sunday, China released a statement insisting that the U.N. Arbitral Tribunal has no jurisdiction on the complaint filed by the Philippines in January 2013 seeking a ruling on three basic issues:

1. The validity of China’s nine-dash lines

2. Low tide elevations where China has built permanent structures should be declared as forming part of the Philippine Continental shelf

3. The waters outside the 12 nautical miles surrounding the Panatag Island (Scarborough Shoal) should be declared as part of the Philippines Economic Exclusive Zones ( EEZ)

China said the essence of the Philippine complaint is “the territorial sovereignty over several maritime features in the South China Sea, which is beyond the scope of the Convention and does not concern the interpretation or application of the Convention.”

China has until Dec. 15 to answer the Philippine complaint in court. In its position paper, China reiterated its stand not to participate in the U.N. proceedings.

China claims almost the whole of South China Sea, parts of which are also being claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

The Philippines does not claim Paracel islands, scene of several fierce clashes between China and Vietnam.

Vietnam also said it believes the Tribunal has the competence to interpret the provisions in the Convention with respect to the construction of artificial islands in the EEZ and Continental Shelves of coastal states.

Vietnam reiterated its earlier declaration that it reserves the right to intervene in the U.N. Court if it is appropriate.

Reacting to Vietnam’s statement before the U.N. Tribunal, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said, “The Chinese side urges the Vietnamese side to earnestly respect China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, work with China to resolve relevant disputes over the Nansha Islands through consultation and negotiation on the basis of respecting historical facts and international law so as to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

He added: “China will stick to its principled position of neither accepting nor participating in the South China Sea arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines… China’s position will not change. “

Earlier, China slammed the U.S. on the report on maritime claims in the South China Sea.

"The United States has violated its commitment of not holding a position and not taking sides in the South China Sea issue, such a move is inconducive to the resolution of the South China Sea disputes and the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” Hong said.

 (VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)