Philippines wins South China Sea case

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An international tribunal has ruled against Chinese claims to rights in the South China Sea, backing a case brought by the Philippines.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration said there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources.

China called the ruling “ill-founded” and says it will not be bound by it.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including reefs and islands also claimed by others.

The tribunal in The Hague said China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights. It also said China had caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment” by building artificial islands.

The ruling came from an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both countries have signed.

The ruling is binding but the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no powers of enforcement.

The Philippines has had diplomatic spats with China over the Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys in particular.

It says China’s “nine-dash line”, which China uses to demarcate its territorial claims, is unlawful under the UNCLOS convention.

Philippe Sands, a lawyer for the Philippines in the case, said it was a “clear and unanimous judgement that upholds the rule of law and the rights claimed by the Philippines”.

However, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said that “as the panel has no jurisdiction, its decision is naturally null and void”.

The tribunal was ruling on seven of 15 points brought by the Philippines. Among the key findings were:

Fishermen from the Philippines and China both had fishing rights around the disputed Scarborough Shoal area, and China had interfered by restricting access

China had “destroyed evidence of the natural condition of features in the South China Sea” that formed part of the dispute

Transient use of features above water did not constitute inhabitation – one of the key conditions for claiming land rights of 200 nautical miles, rather than the 12 miles granted for rocks visible at high tide.

Reaction

As expected, China is standing firm and re-asserting its claim to the area.

“China’s territorial sovereignty and marine rights in the South China Sea will not be affected by the so-called Philippines South China Sea ruling in any way,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He said China was “determined to maintain peace and stability” and was committed to resolving disputes “through negotiations based on respects to historical facts and according to international laws”.

The Philippine government says it is now studying the ruling. However, the BBC’s Jonah Fisher, in Manila, says the lack of celebrations may be a result of the recent change of government.

Our correspondent says many Filipinos believe newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte may have sought promises of Chinese investment, in return for a quiet, dignified response.

The US called the decision an “important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea”, and urged all parties to consider it “final and legally binding”.

Taiwan, which also claims the disputed area, said the ruling had “seriously damaged” its rights.

“We hereby solemnly state that we will definitely not accept this ruling,” the foreign ministry said.

The US sent an aircraft carrier and fighter jets to the region ahead of the decision, while the Chinese navy has been carrying out exercises near the disputed Paracel islands.

Source: BBC