Philippines takes territorial fight with China to international tribunal

Philippine Foreign secretary Albert del Rosario (L) and solicitor general Francis Jardeleza are pictured in Manila on Tuesday.

Story highlights

  • 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

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.

      Asia's disputed islands

    • The Sierra Madre was grounded on the Second Thomas Shoal by the Philippines authorities in the 1990s — a detachment of marines is stationed on the rusting hulk.

      Wrecks, rats, roaches

      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.
    • This disputed islands in the East China Sea are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

      Opinion: China's balancing act

      President Xi Jinping has reshaped China's foreign policy by recalibrating its stresses on sovereignty and stability, writes Shen Dingli.
    • This photo taken on October 23, 2013 shows Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) fighter jets leaving their base in Shanghai. Beijing's behaviour in its row with Tokyo over disputed islands is jeopardising peace, Japan's defence minister said on October 29, days after China warned a reported plan to shoot down its drones would constitute "an act of war". AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTONMARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

      War of words heats tensions

      Surprise, surprise, Japan and China are still not getting along, writes Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Japan.
    • Players are asked to fight Japan over disputed real-life islands in "Glorious Mission Online," a video game co-developed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

      Chinese gamers mimic island fight

      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.
    • An aerial view of Sansha -- China's newest city, which is located on Woody Island and part of the Paracels.

      China to open islands to tourism

      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.