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Politics & Law

Indonesia and Philippines reach agreement in South China Sea dispute; lessons for other claimants


Philippine President Benigno Aquino (left) and visiting Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right) reviewing honour guards at the presidential palace in Manila on May 23, 2014

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (left) and visiting Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right) reviewing honour guards at the presidential palace in Manila on May 23, 2014

Indonesia and Philippines have rejected historical records, and accepted UNCLOS (1982) as the current prevailing law to settle maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. This should be a precedent to other claimant nations in the territorial disputes.

The recent conclusion of negotiation over maritime boundaries between Indonesia and the Philippines was a significant development for the two ASEAN member states. Their negotiation commenced in June 1994 and was dormant until 2003.

The positive turn came amidst rising tensions in the South China Sea sparked by worsening disputes over competing maritime claims. The successful conclusion of the talks between Jakarta and Manila holds important lessons for all claimant states over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

How it began

In December 2003, I was assigned to jumpstart the maritime boundaries negotiation with the Philippines that was left dormant by both countries for almost a decade. I worked with my counterpart until 2010 when I left for Brussels, with my successor continuing the negotiation until it was completed and signed just last month on 23 May 2014 in Manila.

Negotiations on maritime boundaries require patience and resolve. It is a long haul. Negotiation with the Philippines is particularly significant because both Indonesia and the Philippines are two of the largest archipelagic countries in the world, initiators of the archipelagic legal principle, and member states of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Yet the Philippines was left with the historical issue of the rectangular line of the Treaty of Paris of 1898 which ended the Spanish-American War but left behind unclear territorial boundaries with Manila’s neighbours. Indonesia disputed the rectangular line of this Treaty on the ground that it did not conform with UNCLOS 1982 which Indonesia and the Philippines are parties to.

It was a complicated issue for both countries because Indonesia rejected the claim. While my Philippine counterpart understood the reasons for our objection, they were under intense domestic pressure to somehow keep the Treaty of Paris on the table. The Philippines eventually aligned its position with UNCLOS 1982 and thus cleared the way for the conclusion of the maritime boundaries negotiation. The alignment of the Philippines position with UNCLOS 1982 can be seen as commendable state practice in international law.

Negotiation over Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI)

When maritime boundaries negotiations were going on between Indonesia and the Philippines as well as Indonesia and Malaysia, I was also involved in 2007 in the negotiation over the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI) – a multilateral partnership of six countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands.

Of these countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste had no maritime boundaries in 2007. Yet they managed to work together, even establishing a Secretariat, to address the urgent threats facing the coastal and marine resources of one of the most biologically diverse and ecologically rich regions on earth.

On another front, in the busiest waters on earth – the Strait of Malacca and Singapore – three littoral states namely Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have been able to work together in the areas with little maritime boundaries, all for the larger good.

Two lessons for South China Sea claimants

There are two important lessons arising from the negotiation between Indonesia and the Philippines over their bilateral maritime boundaries.

Firstly, whether you like it or not, the current prevailing law to settle maritime boundaries is UNCLOS 1982. This is regardless of your historical record, even if it is 115 years old. If a rectangular line map of a century-old Treaty had to be aligned with UNCLOS 1982, aligning a dash-line map that was created only in the mid 1940s with UNCLOS 1982 should be relatively problem-free.

While there is a difference in shape between the rectangular line of the Treaty of Paris that the Philippines previously used with Indonesia and the nine dash-line map that China currently uses to base its maritime claim in the South China Sea, they share one similarity: both are unilateral expressions of claim which are not based on international law. The first Indonesia-Philippines maritime boundary signifies the emergence of a state practice whereby in maritime boundary claims a unilateral proclamation of maps will eventually be aligned with prevailing international law.

Secondly, the claimants need not look far to see how countries in the region can work together for the larger interest over a large swath of waters devoid of maritime boundaries.

The larger interest in CTI is the protection of the environment; in the Straits of Malacca, it is maritime security. They are public goods promoted and protected by countries regardless of the lack of maritime boundaries. These are concrete and excellent state practices in South East Asia. These are also clear examples demonstrating that we in South East Asia do have a culture of international law.

Therefore, the recent escalations in the overlapping claims in the South China Sea are not the regional norm. They are an anomaly to the existing state practice in South East Asia and must be corrected.

It is my conviction that all claimant states in the South China Sea, especially China which is also a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, carry the moral, political, and legal responsibility of creating peace and stability in the world and are able to work together peacefully.

Asia could very well be a world leader in conflict prevention and management of disputes regardless of the existence of boundaries. This can be done by putting the larger common interest and public goods, namely regional stability and security, over and above narrow national views. Are we up to the test?

Arif Havas Oegroseno is Indonesia’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU, and President of the 20th Meeting of the States Parties of UNCLOS 1982. This is strictly a personal view. He contributed this specially to RSIS Commentaries.
 
Source: Straits Times – Indonesia-Philippines Agreement: Lessons for South China Sea Claimants
 
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Discussion

9 thoughts on “Indonesia and Philippines reach agreement in South China Sea dispute; lessons for other claimants

  1. Nice article. Well said. Everybody wants peace and can be resolved by existing laws. Eithier china understands the law, or intentionally not, with closed minds clouded by greed using lies and deception.

    Like

    Posted by rick davis | June 11, 2014, 7:56 pm
  2. Excellent article and job well done by Ambassadir Arif. The deep state in China thrives nurturing rabid nationalism not only to manipulate domestic politics but aa a denial behavior to deal with inherent social fears. This is a huge global problem sourced in a good-faith(????) signer on multiple international negotiation frameworks.

    Like

    Posted by suptweet | June 12, 2014, 2:48 am
    • Step back and see what this Indonesian Philippines agreement really mean. It means Philippines lost half her shirt! That means Philippines cannot claim ANY Spratlys based on whatever fancy Treaty of Paris or any pre 4th July 1946 Independence Date self claimed islands, reefs, shoals in the Spratlys. All seizures of islands, reefs like Kalayaan on 1978 and after UNCLOS 1982 like Aunyujin Reef 1999 are also illegal as Philippines used Treaty of Paris 1898 as illegal basis to do it.

      That means the undetermined owner of the Spratlys that is within the 200 miles EEZ of Philippines are co owners of this EEZ zone. This owner is more likely to be China than Vietnam or ROC, Malaysia, Brunei as the other actors are dormant, not pressing the claim. Nobody gets rewarded for playing cunning, not doing the hard work to earn the reward.

      Incidently because of this Indon PH agreement, the judges in UNCLOS/ITLOS will look at this Facts On The Ground and will conclude the same way as I see: Philippines case against China’s Nine Dash Line is flawed and will be rejected as Philippine Herself give Evidence the 200 miles EEZ from her border are Overlapped by other claimants AND SHE AGREES TO IT, meaning China MUST have equal rights as the Indonesian.

      Editor’s Note: Inappropriate racial comments removed

      Editor’s Note: In response to the many emails about this poster, we do suspect he’s a paid Chinese internet commentator. However, we believe that all people should be allowed to voice their opinions, not just the ones that agree with our agenda. Therefore, at this stage we will not ban him, but will continue to censor his profanity and racial vilification.

      Like

      Posted by Fre Okin | June 15, 2014, 12:00 pm
  3. Reblogged this on ReloNavigator and commented:
    Great achievement and peacefully settled!

    “Indonesia and Philippines have rejected historical records, and accepted UNCLOS (1982) as the current prevailing law to settle maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. This should be a precedent to other claimant nations in the territorial disputes.

    The recent conclusion of negotiation over maritime boundaries between Indonesia and the Philippines was a significant development for the two ASEAN member states. Their negotiation commenced in June 1994 and was dormant until 2003.”

    Like

    Posted by ReloNavigator | June 12, 2014, 12:34 pm
  4. Thank you for publishing this well-written article Craig. And congratulations to Ambassador Arif for the part he played in the important negotiations among Southeast Asian countries over maritime concerns. This is a ray of hope in a contentious world.

    Like

    Posted by Whirled Peas | June 12, 2014, 12:53 pm
  5. “It is my conviction that all claimant states in the South China Sea, especially China which is also a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, carry the moral, political, and legal responsibility of creating peace and stability in the world and are able to work together peacefully.”

    The MORAL, LEGAL responsibility for the Philippines is to De Annex the Kalayaan Islands which WAY BACK China already claim as Nansha Islands, like thousands of years ago, and also like SINCE 1947 per 11 Dash Line. Philippines ALREADY put on notice the Kalayaans is not something up for grab. Flags, markers there were deliberately thrown to bottom of ocean so no way to prove China’s claim. This is Filippino tricks to hide evidence. So she scheme and scheme and scheme to get it.

    UNCLOS come into effect in 1982. Dictator Marcos illegally annex by decree the Kalayaan Islands from Tomas Cloma in 1978. Of course we know Tomas Cloma scheme via a manufactured res nullis from 1947 to May 1956 to finally claim the Kalayaans as Freedomland, only to be framed by Marcos to hand over in 1978, Security among the major reason for the annexation. Philippines does not want China or some other nation to have military presence So Near to Manila!

    So I challenge our dear Fillipinos to have the courage to be honorable people and De Annex the Kalayaans. THEN, maybe China will be easier to negotiate with. Make sense?

    Editors Note: Racist remarks removed.

    Editor’s Note: In response to the many emails about this poster, we do suspect he’s a paid Chinese internet commentator. However, we believe that all people should be allowed to voice their opinions, not just the ones that agree with our agenda. Therefore, at this stage we will not ban him, but will continue to censor his profanity and racial vilification.

    Like

    Posted by Fre Okin | June 13, 2014, 3:38 am

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