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In exchange for Malaysia’s support for its case against China before the United Nations, the Philippines has offered to reconsider a 2009 protest against Malaysia – a move that an expert says effectively downgrades its claim on Sabah.

The quid pro quo was contained in a note verbale the Department of Foreign Affairs handed to a representative of the Malaysian Embassy last week, a week after the visit of Malaysian Defense Minister Dato Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

The downgrade referred to the May 6, 2009 joint submission by Malaysia and Vietnam to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in which Malaysia claimed an extended continental shelf (350 nautical miles from baseline) that was clearly projected from Sabah.

The Philippines, in an Aug. 4, 2009 note to the UN Secretary General, protested the joint submission because it effectively declared Sabah to be a Malaysian territory.

However, on first glance, this meant to people that the state is going to drop the Sabah claim entirely, something reminiscent of this:

Blog-Aquino-II-to-drop-Sabah-claim-to-get-KL-support-vs-Marcos-03-13-13

The Philippines claims ownership of Sabah, which is at present occupied by Malaysia, based on the title of the Sultan of Sulu who ceded proprietary rights over the 76,115-square-kilometer land to the Philippines in 1962.

However, it was clarified that the claim that would be diluted was not that of Sabah island itself– but that of territorial waters which Malaysia also lays claim to.

The 2009 protest towards Malaysia requests that the state:

  1. “confirm” that its claim of an extended continental shelf is “entirely from the mainland coast of Malaysia, and not from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands.”
  2. confirm that it “does not claim entitlement to maritime areas beyond 12 nautical miles from any of the maritime features in the Spratly islands it claims.”

A DFA source said officials involved in the case against China before the UN Arbitral Court said if Malaysia confirms it doesn’t claim beyond 12 nautical miles from any maritime features in the Spratlys Islands it claims, the Philippine case will be strengthened because one of Manila’s demands for relief from the UN court is to declare that certain features, such as rocks, do not generate maritime entitlement beyond 12 nautical miles.

This would clarify that the 12 nautical miles surrounding among others, the Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc (Chinese name: Huangyan Island), are part of the Philippines 200-nautical-mile Economic Exclusive Zone.

The Philippines suit, which primarily sought to nullify China’s all-encompassing nine-dash line map invalid, also wants the U.N. court to rule that submerged features within and beyond 200 nautical miles of the Philippines are not part of China’s continental shelf. This would make China’s occupation of these features a violation of UNCLOS.

A diplomatic source said Malaysia may find the Philippine request “too hard to handle” because it has adopted the policy of “playing it safe”—expressing concern on China aggressiveness in the disputed waters while maintaining good relations with the economic superpower.

“A maritime entitlement of only 12 nautical miles for their reefs, as the essence of the Philippines request, will not be in the interest of Malaysia. Besides, Malaysia will not risk its close economic ties with China, its biggest trading partner,” the source said.

The source said China also protested the 2009 Malaysia-Vietnam submission to the U.N. So even if the Philippines withdrew its objection, the Chinese protest would stand, the source said.

The CLCS would not proceed on the Philippines’ withdrawal of its protest unless and until the Chinese 9-dash line claim is rendered invalid.

The Philippine government clarified that despite the request, their stake at Sabah Island will STAY.

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