Updated at 3:40 p.m. ET on 2020-09-16
A former Supreme Court justice has joined two former Philippine officials in a criminal complaint accusing China’s President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity and atrocities in the South China Sea.
The two former officials filed the complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2019. However the court dropped the complaint in December that year, saying it has no jurisdiction over the case, but it can be reopened if new facts and information were submitted.
Now, former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, an expert on the law of the sea, will join former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in the complaint, del Rosario said on Wednesday.
“I am happy to announce that Justice Antonio Carpio has agreed to join our quest for justice as our counsel in this ICC case,” del Rosario said, adding he believes there is “a strong basis to proceed” and Carpio’s presence will “surely bolster the case.”
He said the team submitted a response to the international court nine months after ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dropped the complaint, and added that additional information will be submitted this week.
“If it is shown that the crimes described in the communication occurred not only in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, but also within its territorial sea or landmass, the ICC has the basis to proceed with our communication,” del Rosario said.
“The purpose of our ICC case is to hold President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials liable and [to ensure they are] penalized with imprisonment pursuant to the ICC statute,” he said.
Carpio-Morales said the court did not dismiss their complaint outright, adding Bensouda had told them that “jurisdictional concerns may be reconsidered in light of new facts and information.”
The original complaint included a 17-page outline of how Xi and other officials allegedly committed crimes by seeking to control the mineral-rich South China Sea region. Others named in the complaint are Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Beijing’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jinhua.
Del Rosario and Morales said they filed on behalf of thousands of Filipino fishermen “persecuted and injured’’ by China’s “aggressive occupation” of South China Sea islands, pointing to the construction of military installations they claimed were destructive to marine life.
“This has seriously undermined the food and energy security of the coastal states in the South China Sea, including the Philippines,” they said in the complaint.
“Though widely publicized, these atrocious actions of Chinese officials in the South China Sea and within Philippine territory remain unpunished, and it is only the ICC that can exact accountability on behalf of Filipinos and the international community, respecting the rule of law.’’
The ICC and Chinese officials could not be reached immediately for comment on Wednesday.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a complaint against China, saying there was no legal basis for Beijing to claim historical rights in the South China Sea. The Chinese government has refused to comply with the ruling.
“There are those who think the rule of law in international relations does not apply to great powers. We reject that view,” del Rosario said, while encouraging other countries in Southeast Asia, which have overlapping territorial claims against China in the disputed sea, to follow suit.
Six other Asian governments have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. They are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia's exclusive economic zone.
US criticism of China
On Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell accused Beijing of bullying Southeast Asian nations into choosing between China and the United States.
“If you look at the record, if you look at the bullying behavior we’ve seen in the South China Sea and elsewhere … the Chinese are forcing a choice,” Stilwell told reporters during a teleconference.
He noted the importance of allowing nations to have independent foreign policies that are free from outside pressure.
In the Philippines, he said, the U.S. was not bothered by mixed signals being sent by President Rodrigo Duterte on Manila’s relations with Washington and Beijing.
Stilwell said Duterte, whose administration has forged closer ties with China, “is free to decide as he chooses,” but the U.S. hopes that those “choices are made in ways that support Philippine sovereignty.”
Philippine officials have taken contrasting stands recently on matters involving Manila’s ties with the two countries.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he would “strongly recommend” cutting links with Chinese firms blacklisted by the U.S. in August, while Duterte said he would not ban them from doing business in the country.
Last week, Duterte pardoned a U.S. Marine convicted of killing a Filipino transgender woman.
“The decisions, the sovereign decisions, by the Philippine government are yours to make, and you’re not going to see the U.S. getting involved,” Stilwell said.
The state department official said the U.S. will let countries decide how they want to work with Beijing, though he urged them to consider China’s track record. He noted that China had reneged on its 2015 promise not to militarize the South China Sea.
Jojo Rinoza in Dagupan City, Philippines, contributed to this report.