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THE HAGUE, Netherlands – An international tribunal will hand down a ruling in an increasingly bitter dispute over the South China Sea tomorrow, in a closely-watched case that risks ratcheting up tensions in Southeast Asia.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration – the world’s oldest international arbitration tribunal – will issue a written decision at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT or around 5 p.m. in Manila) after the Philippines challenged China’s claim over much of the strategic waterway.
Manila lodged the suit against Beijing in 2013, saying after 17 years of negotiations it had exhausted all other political and diplomatic avenues.
Angered by the move, Beijing refused to participate, adding it would not comply with the ruling by a tribunal with “no jurisdiction” over the issue.
Legal experts agree that after three years of deliberations, two hearings, and nearly 4,000 pages of evidence, the court in The Hague is likely to find in Manila’s favor – in a decision with far-reaching ramifications.
“An award from the tribunal that rejects some of China’s more dubious claims would provide support for the mainstream views of other states in the region,” Cecily Rose, assistant law professor of Public International Law at Leiden University, told AFP.
“China is bound to comply with the award. But should it refuse to do so, the tribunal has no enforcement mechanism to which it can turn,” Rose said.
The judgment comes against the backdrop of frequent military brushes between China and its Asian neighbors 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 defense treaties with many regional allies, and in a show of strength last week sent warships to patrol close to some of the reefs and islands claimed by China.
Washington on Friday “urged both parties to comply with the ruling and urge all claimants to avoid provocative actions or statements.” (AFP)