Vietnam asks Philippines to respect its interests, consult on sea boundary

Manila is seeking to extend its continental shelf in the South China Sea.
RFA staff
Vietnam asks Philippines to respect its interests, consult on sea boundary An aerial view shows the BRP Sierra Madre on the contested Second Thomas Shoal, locally known as Ayungin, in the South China Sea, March 9, 2023.

Vietnam is asking Manila for talks to discuss its lodging of a claim with the U.N. to extend the Philippine continental shelf in the South China Sea.  

Last week, Philippine diplomats submitted documents to the United Nations to “register the country’s entitlement to an extended continental shelf” in the West Palawan region of the contested waterway.

The submission could bring legal challenges from Vietnam and Malaysia as they see their extended continental shelves overlapping with that claimed by the Philippines.

While coastal states have a right to determine their outer continental shelf boundaries under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in submitting such claims “they must respect the legal and legitimate rights and interests of other relevant coastal nations with opposite or adjacent coasts,” the Vietnamese foreign ministry said on Thursday.

“Vietnam [is] ready to discuss with the Philippines to seek and achieve a solution that is mutually beneficial for both countries,” ministry spokeswoman Pham Thu Hang said.

An extended continental shelf is the stretch of seabed that extends to a maximum of 350 nautical miles (648 km) from the shore of a coastal state, which has exclusive rights to explore it or exploit its natural resources, according to UNCLOS.

On June 14, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the Philippines is “entitled to establish the outer limits of its continental shelf,” and that the seabed and subsoil hold “significant potential resources that will benefit our nation and our people for generations to come.”

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Continental shelf can extend beyond 200nm to a maximum of 350nm from the shore, or baseline. (The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea)

The U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) said it would look at the Philippines’ submission during a session between January and March next year.

Malaysia has yet to say anything publicly but will likely submit a diplomatic protest to the U.N., according to Malaysian sources.

China, which claims most of the South China Sea despite regional countries’ objections, has rejected the Philippine submission, saying it infringed upon China’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction and violated international law. Beijing said the submission should not be recognized nor considered.

In 2009, when Vietnam and Malaysia made a joint submission on their extended continental shelves, both China and the Philippines protested. The submission, however, was considered by a U.N. body and that may have led to a Vietnamese proposal to make another joint submission, this time with the Philippines.

At a meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in Hanoi on Jan. 30, the Philippine leader “acknowledged Vietnam’s interest” in pursuing a joint submission on the extended continental shelf, according to a Philippine statement.

Marcos was quoted as saying that the Philippines was willing to work with Vietnam for a joint submission “at the appropriate time.”

Questions remain over why Manila decided to make its submission unilaterally now, especially when it is facing an escalating confrontation with China in the South China Sea and seeking the support of the ASEAN regional grouping.

Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news service affiliated with BenarNews, produced this report.


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