The rules-based international order as the bedrock of maritime dispute settlement

The rules-based international order as the bedrock of maritime dispute settlement

The Philippines and Greece enjoy excellent bilateral relations, built on shared values of democracy, sustainable and inclusive prosperity, and a belief in the rules-based international order, especially in the oceans.

We place great importance on maritime cooperation, given the significant contribution of our maritime sectors to our economies. Greece has the world’s largest shipping fleet, while the Philippines deploys a quarter of the world’s seafarers.

We recognize the importance of maintaining ocean health and sustainability. This requires responsible ocean governance anchored on the twin pillars of international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and international cooperation.

Rules must remain in place, and states must faithfully implement them.

Hence, the Philippines continually advocates for a rules-based maritime order, with UNCLOS at the forefront as the Constitution of the oceans.

We are committed to a rules-based maritime order. We affirm its importance as a cornerstone for international peace and stability. In an era marked by unprecedented challenges and complex geopolitical dynamics, we must uphold the principles that safeguard the sovereignty and rights of all nations. We must work together to ensure that all states, regardless of size or power, fulfill their obligations under international law, specifically UNCLOS.

We are committed to maintaining the South China Sea as a region of peace, stability and prosperity. We understand that upholding and protecting our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in all our maritime zones is vital to preserving our people’s livelihoods.

For millions of Filipinos, access to the sea and its resources is critical to their livelihood. And we have gone to great lengths to protect and preserve our legitimate rights in the South China Sea given us under UNCLOS and reaffirmed by the 2016 Arbitral Award.

The 2016 Arbitral Award was an affirmation of UNCLOS. The award legally settled the Philippines’ maritime entitlements and the status of features in the area. It has been cited by the recent International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea Advisory Opinion as an authoritative source of international law as regards the duty of states to protect and preserve the marine environment. It is regrettable, therefore, that there are efforts to impugn the award’s legally binding outcomes.

It is equally regrettable that a false narrative is being peddled that the South China Sea disputes are merely a stage for the strategic rivalry between Great Powers. This detracts from the real issue: that a country is choosing to ignore international law and the legitimate rights and interests of the coastal states in the region.

We also recognize the South China Sea’s global importance, given its significance in shipping, biodiversity conservation, and practical applications of international law. Hence, we continually expand engagement with states, based on common advocacy for UNCLOS. We were one of the first countries to sign the High Seas Treaty or the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement.

The South China Sea is a truly global issue.

As a leading maritime and shipping power, Greece has a considerable stake in maintaining a rules-based order in the South China Sea. Greece is the world’s largest shipowning country, with shipping contributing 8% of its GDP. This is especially significant to the Philippines, given that around 50,000 Filipino seafarers help crew Greek-flagged, managed and owned ships. An estimated US$3.37 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea annually, accounting for a third of global maritime trade. A significant number of ships plying these routes are Greek, many staffed by Filipinos. As such, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight, the responsible use of marine resources, the preservation of the marine environment, and the upholding of UNCLOS’ pre-eminence in maritime dispute settlement and ocean governance in the South China Sea are especially relevant to both our countries. I hope we can work closely to align our positions on these matters.

As maritime nations, the Philippines and Greece are dependent on the security and health of the oceans. The oceans are crucial for our economies, for the global ecological balance, and for the well-being of our communities. A rules-based international order in the global commons is a prerequisite to sustainable and inclusive development. The Philippines is firm in its commitment to upholding a rules-based international order in the South China Sea, in the larger Indo-Pacific region, and beyond.

It is only through cooperation and an unwavering commitment to a rules-based international order that we will be able to achieve a meaningful and prosperous future for all.

Enrique A. Manalo is the secretary of foreign affairs of the Philippines.

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