The Philippines has gone further down the wrong track of seeking international arbitration over territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, and it is doomed to failure.
Manila on Sunday filed a case with the tribunal that arbitrates maritime disputes under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
However, China has legitimate rights under international law to reject an arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines as the UN tribunal has no jurisdiction over Manila's territorial claims to several islands, rocks, shoals and other land features across the South China Sea.
In addition, when ratifying the UNCLOS in 2006, China had the right to opt out of various aspects of it. One of the things it opted out of was compulsory arbitration of maritime boundary delimitations and historical rights by the tribunal.
Manila's unilateral move, which is aimed at bringing the issue to the international and multilateral arena, can not avail the settlement of the Sino-Filipino dispute. Instead, it has caused a deterioration in the relationship between the two sides.
The Philippines should return to the right track of resolving the dispute through negotiation and consultation as soon as possible so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations.
The core of the Sino-Filipino disagreement lies in sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and overlapping sea claims in the South China Sea. Direct talks at bilateral level are the most effective way to settle such disputes, a principle enshrined in the Declaration on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, signed by China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines.
China has always employed direct dialogue to resolve territorial disputes with other countries bilaterally and has gained rich experience in settling boundary issues with its neighbors in the past few decades.
China has resolved territorial disputes with 12 of the 14 countries with which it shares land borders. In 2000, it also settled the maritime boundary delimitation with Vietnam in the Beibu Gulf on the basis of equity principles.
As a close neighbor and trading partner of Beijing, Manila has a big stake in the smooth development of bilateral ties and it would be wise for the Philippines to reopen the door to bilateral negotiation with China.