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Tribunal rejects China’s expansive South China Sea claims

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Filipinos reacted moments after the Hague-based UN international arbitration tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines in its case against China on the dispute in South China Sea, Tuesday, in Manila. The international tribunal has found that there is no legal basis for China’s “nine-dash line” claiming rights to much of the South China Sea. The tribunal issued its ruling Tuesday in The Hague in response to an arbitration case brought by the Philippines against China. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Protesters shouted slogans during a rally outside of the Chinese Consulate hours before the Hague-based UN international arbitration tribunal is to announce its ruling on the South China Sea, Tuesday, in Makati city, east of Manila, Philippines. The protesters urged China to respect the Philippines’ rights over its exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf as mandated by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS.

  • The case regarding the Philippines and China on the South China Sea was heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on July 7 at The Hague, the Netherlands. (Permanent Court of Arbitration via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands » An international tribunal rejected China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea in a landmark ruling today that also found it had aggravated the seething regional dispute and violated the Philippines’ maritime rights by building up artificial islands that destroyed coral reefs and by disrupting oil explorations.

While the decision is seen as a major legal declaration regarding one of the world’s most contested regions, China immediately rejected it as a “farce” and the true impact is uncertain given the tribunal has no power of enforcement.

While the findings cannot reverse China’s actions, it still constitutes a rebuke, carrying with it the force of the international community’s opinion. It also gives heart to small countries in Asia that have helplessly chafed at China’s expansionism, backed by its military and economic power.

“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,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said in Manila, calling on “all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.”

Former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario, who helped oversee the filing of the case, said the ruling underscored “our collective belief that right is might and that international law is the great equalizer among states.”

Del Rosario stressed that it was important for the ruling to be accepted by all.

“For the sake of maintaining international order, it is imperative that the Award and clarification of maritime entitlements be accepted by all relevant countries – without exception – so that we can work together on how remaining issues can be peacefully resolved,” he said.

China and the Philippines are among six governments that have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, waters through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes through each year and which have rich fishing stocks and a potential wealth of oil, gas and other resources.

The disputes have also increased friction between China and the United States, which has ramped up its military presence in the region as China has expanded its navy’s reach farther offshore.

The U.S. said the ruling was an important contribution to peacefully resolving South China Sea disputes and called on both parties to comply with their obligations under the ruling, according to a statement from State Department spokesman John Kirby. It did not immediately comment on the contents of the ruling.

The Philippines, under a U.N. treaty governing the seas, asked in 2013 for arbitration on a number of issues it had with China.

The five-member panel from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, unanimously concluded that China had violated its obligations to refrain from aggravating the dispute while the settlement process was ongoing.

It also found that China had interfered with Philippine petroleum exploration at Reed Bank, tried to stop fishing by Philippine vessels within the country’s exclusive economic zone and failed to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal.

China, which boycotted the entire proceedings, reiterated that it does not accept the panel’s jurisdiction. China “solemnly declares that the award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it,” a statement from the foreign ministry said.

It added that “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards.” The ministry repeated China’s often-expressed stance that the Philippines’ move to initiate arbitration without China’s consent was in “bad faith” and in violation of international law.

A professor of Asian political economy said the ruling could be a “transformative moment” in the region.

Speaking outside the Peace Palace in The Hague, Leiden University professor Jonathan London said the decision will “give countries with a common interest in international norms something to point to and to rally around.”

He said they can say to China: “Look, here are the results of an international organization that has found that your claims have zero historical basis.”

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the tribunal’s decision is “final and legally binding” and that the two sides should comply with it. He said in a statement that “Japan strongly expects that the parties’ compliance with this award will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”

China considers bilateral talks with the other claimants the only way to address the South China Sea disputes.

It has said vast areas of the South China Sea have been Chinese territory since ancient times and demarcated its modern claims with the so-called nine-dash line, a map that was submitted under the U.N. treaty. Manila brought the case to arbitration because China’s claims infringe upon its own 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The tribunal said that any historical resource rights China may have had were wiped out if they are incompatible with exclusive economic zones established under the U.N. treaty, which both countries have signed.

It also criticized China for building a large artificial island on Mischief Reef, saying it caused “permanent irreparable harm” to the coral reef ecosystem and permanently destroyed evidence of the natural conditions of the feature.

Dozens of rallying Filipinos jumped for joy, wept, embraced each other and waved Philippine flags after news of the sweeping victory broke out. One held up a poster that said: “Philippine sovereignty, non-negotiable.”

The new Philippine leader, who took office late last month and has spoken of having friendlier relations with Beijing, could influence the aftermath of the ruling. President Rodrigo Duterte said last week his government stood ready to talk to China if it gets a favorable ruling. It remains to be seen, however, how far Duterte can stray from Manila’s previously critical stance, given his country’s growing nationalist sentiment against China’s actions.

Vietnam, meanwhile, accused Chinese vessels of sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in disputed waters. Nguyen Thanh Hung, a local fisheries executive in the central province of Quang Ngai, said two Chinese vessels chased and sank the Vietnamese boat around midday Saturday as it was fishing near the Paracel islands. The five fishermen were rescued by another trawler around seven hours later.

Vietnam was among several claimants welcoming the ruling in the Philippines’ case.

Associated Press writers Gillian Wong in Beijing, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Vijay Joshi in Bangkok and Teresa Cerojano in Manila contributed to this report.

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    • RIMPAC seems to be more of a military hardware marketing campaign than anything else, so, if you’ve got the cash, we’ve got the weapons.

  • I’m with China on this. These international tribunals have no legitimacy, and cannot be allowed to usurp the rights of sovereign nations.

    • Serious or not, I question the legitimacy of this ruling. It’s not that I think they’re wrong, it’s that China didn’t participate or even agree to the process. Also the article stated that the tribunal has no power of enforcement so it’s more political than anything else.

      • Which is why we are trying to get China into these organizations to tie its hands.

        Endless Sovereignty backed by force results in what China does. Which is frightening and what will happen when Russia and China are given the driver’s seat if Trump wins. There is a reason why Republican foreign policy wonks ranging back decades are solidly backing Hillary. She does not feel that the Post WWII order of rule of law and liberal democracy should be throw out. Trump however, has made no bones about how little he values that. But it makes perfect sense that someone who has hated the Constitution and Bill of Rights for decades has no problem with how Xi and Putin go about things.

        • I don’t know how realistic it would be to expect China to allow itself to be legally bound by these rulings, after all the US, and I assume other countries, also pick and chose which international organizations they want to be a part of. I don’t see this territorial dispute going away anytime soon, as long as China insists on two-party negotiations when it comes to territorial disputes.

  • China seems to be intent on claiming sovereignty where none exists, and one of their current favorite tactics is constructing artificial reefs. I wonder if they’re aware that sunken warships make primo artificial-reef habitats.

  • Where is Keanu Sai when we need him! He’s the champion of so-called “international law.” He’s the guy who went to the same permanent court of arbitration at the Hague and afterward claimed that they recognized the alleged continuing existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom (nonsense; they did not). Sai and his sidekick Dexter Kaiama should be ranting and raving against China and demanding the enforcement of this latest pronouncement of what they have incorrectly referred to as “The World Court.”

  • Is no one complaining about their buyout of Hawaii real estate? Will the Hague Court chastise them for their take-over of all those Kakaako condos?

    • Actually if you had a clue you’d know that the top two foreign buyers of real estate in Hawaii are Japanese and Canadians. So if you’re going to complain you know who to complain against.

      • Yeah, but you know on average Chinese buyers pay much more on a transaction. Frankly it’s the Japanese and Canadians who are competing with us locals.

  • And who dies the Philippines think will enforce the findings? They just belittled the very country that is able to. And of course we’ll come running in despite the belittling and demands that we leave whenever all is hunky dory.

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