An international court said it would deliver a hotly anticipated ruling in the Philippines’ case against China over the South China Sea on July 12, drawing an immediate rebuke from Beijing, which rejects the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
The United States, which is a close ally of the Philippines and is concerned about China’s expansive South China Sea claims, reiterated its backing for The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration and urged a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
Manila is contesting China’s historical claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Several Southeast Asian states have overlapping claims in the sea and the dispute has sparked concerns of a military confrontation that could disrupt global trade.
In a lengthy statement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Manila’s unilateral approach flouted international law.
“I again stress that the arbitration court has no jurisdiction in the case and on the relevant matter, and should not hold hearings or make a ruling,” he said.
He said: “On the issue of territory and disputes over maritime delineation, China does not accept any dispute resolution from a third party and does not accept any dispute resolution forced on China.”
US state department spokeswoman Anna Richey-Allen reiterated US backing for the court. “We support the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, including the use of international legal mechanisms such as arbitration.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the court was a “law-abusing tribunal” that had “widely contested jurisdiction.” It said the case would only worsen the dispute.
“Manila fails to see that such an arbitration will only stir up more trouble in the South China Sea, which doesn’t serve the interests of the concerned parties in the least,” it said.
China’s bases its South China Sea claim on a so-called “Nine Dash line” stretching deep into the maritime heart of southeast Asia and covering hundreds of disputed islands and reefs, rich fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits.
A ruling against Beijing “would deprive China of any legal basis for making such a claim,” Paul Reichler, the Philippines’ chief lawyer in the case told Reuters.
For China to reject the ruling meant it had “essentially declared themselves an outlaw state” that did not respect the rule of law, Reichler said.
The Philippines argues that China’s claim violates the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and restricts its rights to exploit resources and fishing areas within its exclusive economic zone.
While the territorial dispute over the South China Sea was a key issue, priority would be given to crushing Islamist militants in the Philippines, Manila’s new defense minister Delfin Lorenzana told Reuters.
Lorenzana’s comments about his priorities will add to uncertainty about incoming President Rodrigo Duterte position on the dispute. Duterte has said he would confront Beijing but also said he would engage through dialogue. (Reuters)