Skip to main content

Philippines takes territorial fight with China to international tribunal

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 10:17 PM EST, Tue January 22, 2013
Philippine Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario (L) and solicitor general Francis Jardeleza are pictured in Manila on Tuesday.
Philippine Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario (L) and solicitor general Francis Jardeleza are pictured in Manila on Tuesday.
  • Manila says it is running out of options in its dispute with Beijing
  • It says it will challenge China's claims to the South China Sea at a tribunal
  • It cites the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
  • China is involved in territorial disputes with several of its neighbors

Hong Kong (CNN) -- The Philippines raised the stakes in its maritime territorial dispute with China by announcing Tuesday it is taking the case to an international tribunal.

The two Asian nations have been at loggerheads over China's claims of sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea, one of several tense disagreements between Beijing and its neighbors over waters in the region.

Read more: Why China won't turn the other cheek over foreign policy

"The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China," Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario said Tuesday.

As a result, Manila is challenging China's claims, which include the waters off the west coast of the Philippines, at an international arbitration tribunal, citing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Read more: Asean Chief: South China Sea risks becoming 'Asia's Palestine'

The state-run Chinese news agency reported the announcement by the Philippines on Tuesday but didn't carry an immediate response from Beijing.

Other countries, like Vietnam and Malaysia, also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, a 1.3 million square-mile patch of the Pacific Ocean dotted with hundreds of largely uninhabited islands and coral atolls.

The area is a fertile fishing ground and is believed to hold large oil and gas reserves under its seabed.

Tensions between China and the Philippines soared last year during a naval standoff over a remote rocky outcrop in a disputed part of the sea. That crisis lasted months and stoked fears of an open conflict before the Philippines withdrew its ships, citing stormy weather.

Read more: How U.S. can help avert Asia crisis

Analysts say China is trying to solidify its claims of "indisputable sovereignty" over most of the South China Sea by conducting regular maritime patrols in the area.

It is using a similar approach in its heated dispute with Japan over set of small islands in the East China Sea.

The United States is treading a delicate path amid the various territorial tensions in the region.

On Sunday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang warned United States to "be careful with its words" after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington opposes "any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration" of the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

Clinton had reiterated the U.S. policy that it doesn't take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands.

As recently as last week, Xinhua reported that Chinese surveillance vessels were carrying out regular missions in the South China Sea.

The Xinhua report cited Liu Cigui, director of the State Oceanic Administration, as saying that China would continue the patrols "to secure the nation's maritime rights and interests" in areas it claims as its territorial waters.

CNN's Elizabeth Joseph in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
Asia's disputed islands
At first sight it looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Journalist Tomas Etzler travels to one of the most remote locations in the South China Sea -- the front line of a dispute between the Philippines and China.
updated 12:21 AM EST, Fri November 29, 2013
President Xi Jinping has reshaped China's foreign policy by recalibrating its stresses on sovereignty and stability, writes Shen Dingli.
updated 11:12 PM EST, Tue November 26, 2013
Two U.S. military aircraft flew into China's new air defense zone, an action that could inflame power tensions, a U.S. official said.
updated 2:15 AM EST, Wed November 27, 2013
Tensions magnified among the world's top three economies over China's controversial new air defense zone.
CNN looks at the main flashpoints as tension simmers between rival countries over a series of scattered and relatively barren islands.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue November 26, 2013
CNN's David McKenzie reports from Beijing on why the Chinese claim sovereignty over an area in the East China Sea.
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Surprise, surprise, Japan and China are still not getting along, writes Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Japan.
updated 5:35 AM EDT, Fri October 25, 2013
Japan is using YouTube to bolster assertions of ownership over islands also claimed by neighboring China and South Korea.
updated 9:00 PM EDT, Mon August 5, 2013
Players join the ranks of the country's military to take on the enemy in China's first online game co-developed by the People's Liberation Army.
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Wed April 24, 2013
The fragile relationship between China and Japan came under fresh strain as ships from both sides crowded around the disputed islands.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Mon April 8, 2013
Sightseeing cruises soon to set sail to China's newest city, Sansha, located on a disputed island in the South China Sea, a Chinese official said.
America's power and purpose are in jeopardy if the world's three largest economies cannot step back from the brink, writes Patrick Cronin.
updated 3:54 AM EST, Thu November 15, 2012
China uses perceived provocations as a chance to change the status-quo in its favor, writes Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt.