In a widely anticipated, though purely symbolic decision, just over an hour ago a UN tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, ruled unanimously in favour of the Philippines in its case against China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea. It found that China’s claim to historic rights in most of the South China Sea has no legal basis, dealing a setback to Beijing which, as the WSJ adds, the U.S. fears could intensify Chinese efforts to establish its control by force. And, as was just as expected, China promptly announced it does not accept or recognize the ruling by tribunal, Xinhua reported moments after the decision.
The Philippines first brought the case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea at The Hague in 2013, raising 15 instances in which it held China’s claims and activity in the South China Sea had violated international law, writes Hudson Lockett. In 2015 the tribunal decided it had jurisdiction on seven of those, though it said it was still considering the other eight. The tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China couldn’t claim historic rights to resources in the waters within a “nine-dash” line used by Beijing to delineate its South China Sea claims.
That was the most significant element of an unprecedented legal challenge to China’s claims that was brought in 2013 by the Philippines, one of five governments whose claims in the South China Sea overlap with China’s under the nine-dash line.
In a second blow for Beijing, the tribunal decided that China wasn't entitled to an exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, extending up to 200 nautical miles from one island in the Spratlys archipelago, Itu Aba, which is claimed by China and currently controlled by Taiwan. The clearly politically-motivated decision, based on a U.N. convention on maritime law, comes after several years of escalating tension in the region as China has alarmed the U.S. and its allies by using its rapidly expanding naval and air power to assert territorial claims and challenge U.S. military supremacy in Asia.
The Philippines case is seen as a test of China’s commitment to a rules-based international order which the U.S. and its allies say has been undermined by Beijing’s recent military activities, including construction of seven fortified artificial islands in the South China Sea. The ruling on Itu Aba is important because the U.N. maritime convention allows countries to build artificial islands in their own EEZs, and all of the seven structures China has built lie within 200 nautical miles of Itu Aba, which Taiwan calls Taiping Island. It also means that China has no legal claim to an EEZ overlapping that of the Philippines.
In a statement published on a verified social media feed just before the ruling, China’s Ministry of Defense said the decision wouldn't affect its approach in the South China Sea.
“No matter what the result of the arbitration, the Chinese military will unswervingly protect the nation’s sovereignty, security and maritime rights, resolutely protect the safety and stability of the region, and face down all manner of threats and challenges,” it said. After the ruling, the ministry referred to the comment as its official statement.
China didn’t take part in the tribunal, which it said had no jurisdiction on the case, and Chinese officials have said repeatedly in recent weeks that Beijing won't comply with the ruling.
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