Justice Carpio: Fish Sanctuary Could Ease Philippine-China Conflict



Antonio Carpio

Justice Antonio T. Carpio is urging China to join the Philippines in declaring the South China Sea a sanctuary for fish and part of the global commons. He recently aired this suggestion on Facebook after finding China guilty of “grand theft of the global commons.”

According to Inquisitr online news, the Philippine Supreme Court senior associate justice is not alone. He has the backing of the ten-member ASEAN (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam). The 2015 ASEAN conference hosted by Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur between August 1 and 6, allowed member countries to voice their objections to China’s reclamation projects across the South China Sea.

ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh expressed members’ concerns in a Yahoo! report. Minh urged China to adhere to a code of conduct.

“We are calling for the termination of such activities, which are of concern to us, and eroding trust and confidence among the parties, and complicating the very process of negotiating. In the face of the situation, it is even more urgent for ASEAN and China to early conclude the COC.”

Echoing ASEAN’s concerns, the Arbitral Tribunal of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas) is studying the case filed by the Philippines against China for illegal occupation. The Philippines presented its side of the case to UNCLOS last July, while China refused to participate in the hearing. The Tribunal is looking into 1) the admissibility of the claims raised by the Philippines, and 2) China’s objection saying that the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration has no jurisdiction over the case.

Through an ongoing lecture series that has taken him from the Philippines to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, Justice Carpio shares his viewpoint with the public. He illustrates China’s “creeping invasion” of the South China Sea, with cartographic evidence.

The first takeover was of the Paracel Island chain in 1974 from the Vietnamese who lost over 70 troops trying to expel Chinese warships. Next seized was the Mischief Reef (part of the Spratlys) from the Philippines in 1994. The latest to fall into Chinese hands was the Scarborough Shoal (not part of the Spratlys) in 2012.

To validate its claims, China has been using a concept inherited from the old Kuomintang regime of a 9 dashed line boundary that includes certain islands beyond Hainan Island (China’s southernmost point). A departure from the original concept occurs when the People’s Republic claims not just the islands as the delineation intended, but also most of the South China Sea.

This would endanger world economy, according to Carpio, because over half of seaborne trade goes through this region. A Chinese takeover of the high seas where all countries are free to fish, would be especially disruptive if Chinese fishing bans were to be implemented.

While Carpio says that the Philippines adheres to its 12 nautical miles of territorial sea and 200 nautical miles of EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) as defined by UNCLOS, China uses a different tack, backing its 9 dashed line inclusions with historical evidence. It cites records from the Yuan Dynasty identifying the reef now called the “Scarborough Shoal” as an ancient possession.

Through the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, China has used its reclamations in the Spratly chain, to accommodate a 3 kilometer runway. This, Carpio points out, would position fighter bombers carrying cruise missiles within combat range of Australia and all its U.S. military installations.

Japan and the United States, while not involved with ASEAN, have been compelled by a sense of justice to speak up on what is widely perceived as China bullying the Philippines. Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera made official his country’s support of the Philippines’ territorial sovereignty. Guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Fitzgerald demonstrated its readiness to stand by old U.S. ally Philippines, by staging naval maneuvers no more than 50 miles from a Filipino shoal position surrounded by Chinese naval ships.

Meanwhile, according to the Xinhua news agency, the Chinese navy went through a “live firing drill” in the South China Sea, involving about a hundred naval ships with aircraft, missile launchers and battalions of troops.

Instead of sabre rattling, the best option open to China is to follow Justice Carpio’s suggestion: the South China Sea should be protected as a fish sanctuary and part of the global commons.


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