India urges adherence to 2016 ruling favouring Philippines in the South China Sea

Negotiations continue between China and the ASEAN to develop a code of conduct for the South China Sea; though ASEAN has a common agenda, it does not have a common stance, a diplomatic source says

June 30, 2023 07:56 pm | Updated 07:56 pm IST - NEW DELHI

As negotiations continue between China and the ASEAN bloc for a code of conduct in the South China Sea — which diplomatic sources described as a “complex exercise” involving 11 countries — India called for adherence to the 2016 arbitration decision in favour of the Philippines, which has been rejected by China.

As negotiations continue between China and the ASEAN bloc for a code of conduct in the South China Sea — which diplomatic sources described as a “complex exercise” involving 11 countries — India called for adherence to the 2016 arbitration decision in favour of the Philippines, which has been rejected by China. | Photo Credit: Jes Aznar

As negotiations continue between China and the ASEAN bloc for a code of conduct in the South China Sea — which diplomatic sources described as a “complex exercise” involving 11 countries — India called for adherence to the 2016 arbitration decision in favour of the Philippines, which has been rejected by China.

A joint statement issued after talks between Enrique A. Manalo, the visiting Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, and his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar on Thursday said that the two leaders “underlined the need for peaceful settlement of disputes and for adherence to international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea in this regard.”

Mr. Manalo, who arrived in India on an official visit on June 27, concluded his visit on Friday.

China rejected ruling

The Philippines had instituted an arbitration proceeding against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration under UNCLOS on January 22, 2013. The court ruled in favour of Manila on July 12, 2016, but this was rejected by China, which had called it “null and void.” China, which claims rights to most of the resource-rich South China Sea upto the nine-dash line, has become more assertive in recent years, leading to flare-ups in the region.

On the ongoing negotiations on a code of conduct, the source said that it involved a lot of details and 11 countries. Though it has a common agenda, ASEAN does not have a common stance on all issues, given the differing views of its member nations. “It goes into a lot of details like what to do and what rules to observe when there is a collision at sea, how to deal with third parties. Also in the end, we have to agree if the code is legally binding or not, and if so who will enforce it, and if it is not legally binding, then what is its status. Negotiations are going on regularly at the technical and legal levels,” the source added.

Seeking support for ruling

Referring to the 2016 arbitral ruling, the anniversary of which is in two weeks, the source noted that China does not recognise the ruling and did not participate in the deliberations at The Hague. “The ruling is final but it cannot be enforced and so the only way to deal with that is to seek support for the ruling from other countries and make it clear that it is consistent with the rule of law and consistent with UNCLOS,” the source said. “It is also important to get a positive view on the usefulness of the arbitral ruling.”

On the Philippines’ ongoing tensions with China, the source said that Manila was also doing other things beyond the the 2016 ruling to deal with the actual issue, which is the “presence of China in the South China Sea”. Manila is trying to send as many assets there as possible, to show that it is the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone, even while stressing that it “doesn’t want a conflict” but only wants to “assert its rights and protect its fishermen”.

In November 2022, addressing the ASEAN plus defence ministers’ meeting in Cambodia, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh expressed the hope that the ongoing negotiations for a code in the South China Sea would be fully consistent with international law, in particular, UNCLOS, adding that the code should not prejudice the legitimate rights and interests of nations that were not a party to the discussions.

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