Philippine Maritime Zones Bill and Its Impact on Chinese Fishers

This photo taken on February 6, 2023 shows Filipino fishermen aboard their boats sailing past a Chinese vessel in the Scarborough Shoal, in the disputed South China Sea. STR / AFP
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The proposed Maritime Zones bill in the Philippines has sparked discussions about its effectiveness in deterring Chinese fishermen from intruding into Philippine waters. While some argue that the bill may not directly discourage such incursions, it is believed that it would impose more pressure on China to adhere to international law. Gregory Poling, the director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, shared his insights on the matter.

The Philippine Senate is set to pass the proposed “Philippine Maritime Zones Act (PMZA) of 2023” in an effort to clearly define the maritime zones of the Philippines in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (Unclos). Senator Francis Tolentino, the sponsor of the bill, aims to establish a legal framework that will help the Philippines manage, protect, regulate, develop, and sustainably utilize its marine resources.

Poling emphasized that there is no quick solution to the ongoing territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea. Instead, he sees the Maritime Zones Act as a step towards accumulating pressure on China over time. By aligning Philippine domestic law with international law, the country can strengthen its moral and legal high ground. This, in turn, allows the Philippines to position itself in contrast to China’s behavior and exert more pressure on Beijing.

However, Poling also acknowledged that the bill alone will not bring about immediate changes. He emphasized that the issue at hand is a long-term problem that requires sustained efforts. Chinese President Xi Jinping is unlikely to suddenly change his stance on the matter. The bill, therefore, serves as a foundation for the Philippines to assert its rights and protect its interests in the region.

The study titled “Deep Blue Scars: Environmental Threats to the South China Sea,” conducted by Poling and his team, sheds light on China’s destructive actions in the South China Sea. According to the study, China has caused significant damage to reefs, destroying almost 21,000 acres due to its giant clam harvesting and expansionism. This highlights the urgency of addressing the issue and the importance of the Philippines’ efforts to protect its maritime spaces.

The Maritime Zones bill, if passed into law, will not only help the Philippines assert its rights but also contribute to the country’s overall maritime governance framework. It will clearly define the Philippines’ maritime entitlements as outlined in Unclos and other relevant international regulations. By doing so, the bill aims to strengthen the country’s ability to manage, regulate, and sustainably utilize its marine resources.

In conclusion, while the Maritime Zones bill may not directly deter Chinese fishermen from intruding into Philippine waters, it is expected to exert pressure on China to comply with international law. The bill serves as a crucial step towards accumulating pressure and solidifying the Philippines’ moral and legal high ground. By clearly defining its maritime zones, the Philippines aims to protect its marine wealth and assert its rights in the face of China’s expansionist activities.

Source: The Manila Times

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