Updated 13:00 PM PHT Thu, April 20, 2017
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 20) — The arbitral ruling in favor of the Philippines in a maritime row with China should be used as basis for the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, the Group of Seven (G7) leaders said.
Leaders from seven advanced economies -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- expressed concern over the long-standing maritime row, one of the major security issues they discussed in a meeting on April 11 in Lucca, Italy. The European Union was also represented in the meeting.
"We consider the July 12, 2016 award rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal under the UNCLOS as a useful basis for further efforts to peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea," the G7 leaders said in a joint communique.
This landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague awarded to the Philippines areas in the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The UNCLOS is an international treaty that sets the limits of countries' territorial waters and guidelines for the use of marine resources. The Philippines and China are signatories to the treaty.
However, China has refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling and continues to claim the South China Sea in its entirety.
Critics have slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's "defeatist" stance on the issue. Duterte has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war against China, but has promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with China during his term.
G7: Avoid tensions, forge code
The G7 also reiterated its "strong opposition" against the militarization of disputed areas, and urged claimant countries to comply with international law.
Aside from the Philippines and China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also have competing claims in the South China Sea.
The G7 leaders said countries should avoid any "unilateral actions which increase tensions, such as the threat or use of force, large scale land reclamation, building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes."
"We emphasize the fundamental importance of building trust and security and of the peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes in good faith and in accordance with international law, including through internationally recognized legal dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration," the G7 said.
The G7 also called for the establishment and implementation of a legally binding code of conduct for parties with conflicting claims in the South China Sea.
China and the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) already signed in 2002 a Declaration on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, but they have yet to agree on its implementation. This will be tackled again in a meeting in May, one of the activities during the Philippines' chairmanship of the ASEAN this year.
The G7's statements come after recently reported plans of Chinese construction in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, one of the islets and reefs in the South China Sea.
The government has accepted China's pronouncement it has no official plans to build anything on Scarborough, also known as Panatag Shoal.