An arbitration court ruled on Tuesday that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and that it has breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its actions, infuriating Beijing which dismissed the case as a farce.
China, which boycotted the hearings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, vowed again to ignore the ruling and said its armed forces would defend its sovereignty and maritime interests.
The panel said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line, which covers much of the South China Sea.
It said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal, one of the hundreds of reefs and shoals dotting the sea, and had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank, another feature in the region.
“None of China’s reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone.’’
The ruling also said China had caused permanent harm to the coral reef ecosystem in the Spratlys, charges China has always rejected.
The judges acknowledged China’s refusal to participate, but said they sought to take account of China’s position on the basis of its statements and diplomatic correspondence.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry has comprehensively rejected the ruling, saying its people had more than 2,000 years of history in the South China Sea, that its islands did have exclusive economic zones and that it had announced to the world its “dotted line” map in 1948.
“China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards.
“China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards,” it said.
The ministry, however, also repeated that China respected and upheld the freedom of navigation and over-flight and that China was ready to keep resolving the disputes peacefully through talks with states directly concerned.
China’s Defence Ministry said in a statement shortly before the ruling was made public that the armed forces would “firmly safeguard national sovereignty, security and maritime interests and rights, firmly uphold regional peace and stability, and deal with all kinds of threats and challenges”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the case had been a farce from beginning to end and put the dispute into dangerous territory of worsening tensions and confrontation.
He said the time had now come to put things back on the right track and noting the new Philippine government’s sincerity in taking steps to demonstrate its willingness to improve ties.
Paul Reichler, Lead Lawyer for the Philippines, described the judgement as a complete and total victory for the Philippines, a victory for international law and international relations.
Perfecto Yasay, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary, welcomed the ruling and described it as ground breaking ruling.
He said that the ruling is significant as it is the first time that a legal challenge has been brought in the dispute, which covers some of the world’s most promising oil and gas fields and vital fishing grounds.
Yasay said that it reflected shifting balance of power in the 3.5 million sq km sea, where China has been expanding its presence by building artificial islands and dispatching patrol boats that keep Philippine fishing vessels away.
“Our experts are studying the award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves.
“We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety,’’ he said.
Yasay reiterated that the Philippines strongly affirmed its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea.
Observers noted that oil prices jumped following the findings from The Hague, with international Brent crude futures up almost 3 percent at 47.87 dollar per barrel at 1130 GMT.
They said that the deep waters of the South China Basin between the Spratly and also-disputed Paracel Islands are the most direct shipping lane between northeast Asia’s industrial hubs of China, Japan and South Korea and Europe and the Middle East.
The observers said further that the case, brought by the Philippines in 2013, hinged on the legal status of reefs, rocks and artificial islands in the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Island group.
“Manila’s 15-point case asked the tribunal to rule on the status of the nine-dash line, a boundary that is the basis for its claim to roughly 85 percent of the South China Sea.’’
They noted that even though the court has no power of enforcement, yet the victory for the Philippines could spur Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei to file similar cases. (Reuters/NAN)