Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco > Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco >> News



Consul General Henry S. Bensurto, Jr. (middle) explains the significance of the Arbitral Tribunal Ruling on the South China Sea.  He is joined by other distinguished speakers (left to right) N. Bruce Pickering (Asia Society), Rafiq Dossani (RAND Corporation), Donald K. Emmerson (Stanford University), and Orville Schell (Asia Society).  Photo credit: Yiwen Zhang/Asia Society

On 4 October 2016, the Asia Society of Northern California, in partnership with the RAND Corporation and UC Berkeley’s Institute of East Asian Studies, hosted two panels of experts at the ASNC Bechtel Conference Center in San Francisco to explore the situation in the South China Sea and the ramifications of the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling in favor of the Philippines.

The first panel discussed the factors driving the actions and policies of the Philippines, China, and Taiwan.  It featured the following speakers:  Yann-huei Song, Research Fellow, Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica (Taiwan); Maria Ortuoste, Associate Professor, Political Science, CSU East Bay; Thomas B. Gold, Professor of Sociology, UC Berkeley; David Arnold, President, The Asia Foundation (moderator).

The second panel focused on the implications of the recent tribunal ruling against China’s claim within the so-called nine-dash line, and featured the following: Donald K. Emmerson, Director, Southeast Asia Program, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University; Henry S. Bensurto, Jr., Consul General, Philippines Consulate General of San Francisco; Rafiq Dossani, Director, Center for Asia-Pacific Policy, RAND Corporation; Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center on U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society.

Consul General Henry S. Bensurto, Jr., a maritime law expert and former head of the Philippines’ Legal Team on the arbitration case against China, illustrated to a riveted audience how the ruling significantly simplifies what used to be an enormously complex “noodle bowl” situation in the South China Sea.

First, the Tribunal’s decision invalidated the nine-dash line, therefore removing it as point of contention.  Second, the decision identified the maritime features in the contested region either as rocks or low-tide elevations, thereby incapable of projecting 200 nautical miles.  In effect, the Tribunal’s decision clarified that the dispute is not on the whole of the South China Sea, but limited only to features classified as rocks and their respective 12 nautical mile projections.

For the Consul General, this is half the situation resolved.  “Fifty percent of the problem in the SCS is the convoluted lines generated by the crisscrossing disputes which is both maritime and territorial.  And every time those lines intersect with each other, they generate a dispute… What you see here is that many of the lines have been disentangled, many of the disputes have been clarified.”

The Consul General Bensurto also emphasized that post-arbitration, the issue in the South China Sea is no longer just about the Philippines and China, but how the community of nations can realize a future of lasting regional peace and stability through respect of the rule of law.  “The intention of the Philippines is not to make an enemy of China, but we live in a community and law is the tie that binds that community. If you take it out, you descend into anarchy,” he explains.

While Consul General Bensurto describes the arbitration and its subsequent ruling as a “cornerstone in building the structure of peace in the South China Sea,” he also reminds that there is more work to be done not only for the claimant states but the international community.  “We all know the tribunal is not the whole solution.  We call it one brick in a whole house. But you have to start somewhere.”  He further noted that President Duterte has repeatedly articulated that even as the Philippines moves forward in engaging with China, the decision of the Tribunal will remain a key element in discussions.

The event was well-attended and well-received by participants, which included prominent Bay Area personalities as well as representatives from academe, think-tanks, business councils, and government.

The Asia Society is a prominent US-based think-tank and educational institution “dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships across people, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States in a global context.”  This session is one of several conferences, panel discussions, cultural programs, exclusive dinners, and networking events conducted throughout the year on various topics. END.