03/27/2023, 18.12
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Justice Carpio: open seas are a common good, China should respect treaties

The retired Philippine supreme court justice spoke at a conference at the Gregorian University in Rome, noting that China’s claims in the Southeast Asia are incompatible with the High Seas Treaty and will have a negative impact on international law. If “might is right” rules, an arms race will follow.

Rome (AsiaNews) – China’s claims in the South China Sea are not only a local problem, but a threat to the very idea of global commons, protected under international law, this according to Justice Antonio T. Carpio, a retired member of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Mr Carpio spoke today at the conference “Democracy for the Common Good” (Democrazia per il bene commune) held at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome dedicated to the topic of ethics in international relations.

“Just three weeks ago,” he said in his address, “the United Nations Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction approved the final text of the High Seas Treaty, a monumental work that spanned almost two decades of contentious negotiations among 120 nations to protect and preserve for posterity, and to share for all mankind, the living resources of the oceans of our planet beyond national jurisdiction.”

The treaty was met with satisfaction across the world, but it goes against the policy China is pursuing with ever-greater determination in Southeast Asia.

“In the South China Sea, where about 25 per cent of the sea constitutes the high seas, the resources of the high seas, including the resources of the global commons, are claimed exclusively by one state – China,” Justice Carpio explained.

“Under its infamous nine-dash line, China claims historic rights, allegedly dating back 2,000 years ago, to all the resources within the nine-dash line.  However, the Chinese authorities first circulated within China its nine-dash line map only in 1947, and it was only in 2009 that China submitted its nine-dash line map to the United Nations.”

This “encroaches not only on the entire high seas of the South China Sea, but also on vast areas of the EEZs of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia in the South China Sea.

“In the case of the Philippines, the nine-dash line encroaches on 80 per cent of the EEZ of the Philippines in the South China Sea. This is a clear violation of UNCLOS,” i.e. the  United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration upheld the principles enshrined in the convention, and decided against China, which, however, refused to accept the tribunal’s ruling. What is more, China amended its coast guard law to allow its vessels to use all "necessary security and control measures".

“The reversion to the ‘might is right’ principle will certainly mean the collapse of the UN Charter as well as the end of UNCLOS.  This will lead to never-ending wars. To defend themselves, states will have to devote much of their resources to acquiring warships, warplanes, missiles and other weapons, leading to a worldwide arms race and diverting scarce resources needed for social services, education and economic development.

As a result, “Non-nuclear armed states will be at the mercy of nuclear-armed states. States with the technology will develop nuclear arms to defend themselves from bullying or invasion by nuclear-armed states.  It will be a dangerous world to live in.”

How to respond to this situation? From the conference in Rome, Justice Carpio calls for greater education to boost the principles of international law.:

“The foundational principles of the UN Charter mandating the peaceful settlement of disputes and prohibiting the threat or use of force must be taught to all students of the world from grade school to college.”

With this in mind, “the curriculum of all schools should include the teaching of these foundational principles”, which “must be made part of the DNA of citizens of all states so that everyone will oppose national leaders who resort to threat or use of force to settle any dispute between or among states.”

“Our generation has mercifully been spared from the scourge of a Third World War.  It is therefore the duty of our generation, in the words of the UN Charter, ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’ And we know that a Third World War may very well spell the end of human civilization as we know it today.”

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