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Hague tribunal rejects Beijing’s claim to South China Sea

STR, AFP | Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the strategically vital waters of the South China Sea, which are rich in hydrocarbons and marine resources.
5 min

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague on Tuesday ruled that China has no legal basis to claim “historic rights” to islands in the South China Sea and had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights.


"The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line'," the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration said in a statement.

The nine-dash refers to a demarcation line on a 1947 map of the sea, which is rich in energy, mineral and fishing resources.

In the landmark, 497-page ruling, judges found that Chinese law enforcement patrols had risked colliding with Philippine fishing vessels in parts of the sea and caused irreparable damage to coral reefs with construction work.

Philippines govt welcomes Hague ruling

The tribunal also found China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights. “Having found that certain areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, (b) constructing artificial islands and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.”

In a unanimous, hard-hitting ruling, the Hague tribunal maintained that the disputed Spratly islands "cannot generate maritime zones collectively as unit" as claimed by China.

Tuesday's judgment comes against the backdrop of frequent military brushes between China and its Asian neighbours the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, which ring the waters believed to hold untapped oil and gas reserves.

The tensions have also alarmed the United States, which has key defence treaties with many regional allies.

Following the ruling, the US State Department said it was still studying the decision and had no comments on the merits of the case. It added, however, that it supports efforts to resolve South China territorial and maritime disputes peacefully.

“The decision today by the Tribunal in the Philippines-China arbitration is an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Philippines hails ‘milestone decision’

The Philippines, which brought the arbitration case against China, welcomed the ruling. Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay called it a "milestone decision" and pledged to pursue a peaceful resolution of its territorial disputes with China.

"The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea," he said.

Speaking at a news conference in Manila shortly after the decision was announced, Yasay however called for "restraint and sobriety" on the issue.

"Our experts are studying this award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves," he said. "We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.”

China rejects ruling

China has however boycotted the proceedings, saying the court has no jurisdiction over the issue. It has vowed to ignore the ruling.

In a brief reaction published by the official Xinhua news agency, China said it did not accept and does not recognise the judgment.

Earlier Tuesday, the China Daily newspaper, which is published by the government, topped its front page Tuesday with a picture of Woody Island in the Paracels, emblazoned: "Arbitration invalid".

China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the strategically vital waters in the face of rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbours.

Its claims derive from a map drawn in the 1940s that show a dashed line stretching south from China and encircling almost all of the sea.

To bolster its position it has rapidly turned reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes, and the official Xinhua news agency said Monday it had built four lighthouses on reefs in the waters, with a fifth under construction.

It has held navy combat exercises between the Paracels and the southern Chinese island of Hainan in recent days.

US naval destroyers have been patrolling near the Chinese-claimed Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands, supported by aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the US-based Navy Times reported.

Chinese state media have said Beijing will not take a "single step back" after the ruling, and President Xi Jinping said earlier this month that China would never compromise on sovereignty, adding: "We are not afraid of trouble."

China has sought diplomatic support around the world, and foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that its latest backers included Angola, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea, showing that "justice and righteousness always have popular support".

"Who is upholding the sanctity of international law and who is breaking international law, I think people are all clear about that," he said.

Manila lodged its suit against Beijing in 2013, saying China was in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which both countries are signatories.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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