Amid rising tensions between claimants to territory in the East China Sea and the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines' stand of invoking international law in asserting its own claim against an increasingly aggressive China is gaining support from international law experts.
Meeting in Manila on Thursday, international law experts and scholars said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) should serve as the anchor for nations disputing ownerships of resource-rich islands in the East China Sea, South China Sea and its part within Philippine territory called West Philippine Sea.
Tensions have risen in recent days between Japan and China over Beijing's declaration on Nov. 23 of an "air defence identification zone" in the East China Sea covering a group of uninhabited islands claimed by both countries, and between the Philippines and China over suggestions that Beijing would declare the next such zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Speaking at a forum organised by the Angara Centre for Law and Economics, a think tank founded by former Sen. Edgardo Angara, Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said China "must bring its claims into line" with the law of the sea.
Storey cited complications posed by China's nine-dash-line claim to nearly the whole of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.
"[The] nine-dash line is the crux of the South China Sea problem and stands in the way of a resolution and joint development," Storey said, adding that China's "commitment to international law is shaky at best."
"China is claiming 'historical rights' within the nine-dash line but the dispute should be settled in accordance with "historical facts and international law," Storey said.