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China has no 'historic rights' over South China Sea: Hague Tribunal

Reuters Amsterdam | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on July 12, 2016
A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea. File Photo

A Philippine flag flutters from BRP Sierra Madre, a dilapidated Philippine Navy ship that has been aground since 1999 and became a Philippine military detachment on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea. File Photo   -  Reuters

Judges at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague on Tuesday rejected China's claims to economic rights across large swathes of the South China Sea in a ruling that will be claimed as a victory by the Philippines.

“There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line',” the court said, referring to a demarcation line on a 1947 map of the sea, which is rich in energy, mineral and fishing resources.

In the 497-page ruling, judges also 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.

China rejects ruling

China “does not accept and does not recognise” the ruling by a UN—backed tribunal on its dispute with the Philippines over the South China Sea, official media said here today.

State-run Xinhua news agency reported the comments, in a brief dispatch that did not identify a source that follow a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that China has no historic rights to its claimed “nine—dash line“.

Hours before the verdict was to be announced, China had said it will ignore the ruling by The Hague Tribunal.

China had boycotted the hearings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, saying it did not have jurisdiction over the dispute.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked how China would be getting the ruling, said it would have nothing to do with the court.

“We won't accept any of their so-called materials, no matter what they are,” Lu had told reporters.

Philippines welcomes decision

The Philippines welcomed a ruling by a UN-backed tribunal today that declares China has no “historic rights” in the South China Sea, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said, as he urged restraint.

“The Philippines welcomes the issuance today... on the arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines with regard to the South China Sea,” Yasay told reporters minutes after the court in The Hague released its verdict.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration said the tribunal ruled there was no legal basis for China to claim “historic rights” to resources within the South China Sea falling within its claimed nine—dash line, which is based on a Chinese map dating back to the 1940s.

“Our experts are studying the award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves.

In the meantime, we call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety,” Yasay said.

“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 added the decision upheld international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Philippines formally lodged its arbitration case under the United Nations' 1982 Convention of the Law of the Sea, known as UNCLOS, in January 2013.

China repeatedly warned the Philippines against pushing ahead with the case, and Beijing has refused to participate in any of its hearings, foregoing its right to appoint a judge. China had said the court has no jurisdiction, and that its historic rights and sovereignty over the South China Sea predates UNCLOS.

UNCLOS does not deal with sovereignty issues, but sets out what countries can claim from various geographic features at sea, as well maritime behaviour. That regime allows for 12 nautical miles of territorial waters from islands and rocks and 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from islands that can sustain ordinary human habitation. An EEZ is not sovereign territory but gives a country the right to the fish and seabed resources, including oil and gas, within that zone.

China and the Philippines are among the 167 parties that have signed and ratified UNCLOS. The United States has not, as the law has been blocked in the US Senate in the past. But its government recognises it as customary international law, including during naval patrols of the South China Sea.



Why is the case important?

The Philippines' case against China marks the first time any legal challenge has been brought in the South China Sea territorial dispute. Centred on the Spratlys archipelago, which straddle vital international shipping lanes, tensions in the South China Sea have simmered for decades, intensifying in recent years. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all claim the Spratlys and/or surrounding waters. China, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all of the Paracel Islands in the north of the South China Sea.

The dispute has intensified political and military rivalry across the region between the rising power of China and the long-dominant player, the United States. China has been projecting its growing naval reach while the United States is deepening ties with both traditional security allies such as Japan and the Philippines and with newer friends, including Vietnam and Myanmar.

Chinese analysts say the South China Sea will only grow in importance for Beijing, particularly as its submarine base on Hainan Island will be crucial to China's future nuclear deterrent.

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Published on July 12, 2016
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