The crucial verdict on the disputed South China Sea is out. The arbitration court in The Hague has ruled in favour of Philippines.
China has “no historic rights” in South China Sea, said the UN-backed tribunal.
“The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’,” the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration said in a statement.
Even as Philippines welcomed the ruling and urged China to show restraint, China rejected the court’s verdict saying it does not have jurisdiction to decide on the matter.
China “neither accepts nor recognises” the ruling of a tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration established at the request of the Philippines, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
“The award is null and void and has no binding force,” it said in a statement minutes after the five judge tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered its judgement striking down Beijing’s claims of historic rights over South China Sea waters.
Philippines had challenged China’s right to exploit resources across vast swathes of the strategic waterway. Philippines had accused China of taking control of the area around 140 miles from its coast.
Philippines’ petition had also asked the international tribunal to reject China’s claim to sovereignty over waters within a ‘nine-dash line’ that appears on official Chinese maps.
“The US and Japan have claimed that relevant countries, including China, should comply with the arbitration result. They stand in sharp confrontation with China, which has announced that the award would be ‘nothing but a piece of paper’,” reported state-run Global Times ahead of the verdict of the five-judge arbitral tribunal.
In Manila, a hundred Filipino activists rallied outside the Chinese Consulate in the financial district ahead of the verdict. The Filipino activists marched towards the consulate carrying placards demanding China leave the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.
“We reject in no uncertain terms the nine-dash claims being made by China and we uphold the provisions stated in the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea. The issue is very clear, that China has to respect the right of the Filipinos especially on the Exclusive Economic Zone,” said New Patriotic Alliance Secretary General Renato Reyes.
Several fishermen from coastal towns near the South China Sea joined the protest, carrying a boat effigy with the words “Chexit now!” and “Hands off PH!” painted on the side.
“I will return, I will definitely return. In fact, we went there on June 12, but were blocked from entering the shoal. We were shooed away like dogs, so we had no other choice but to turn back. This is my wish and the reason I came here – to listen to the tribunal decision to see if the Panatag (Scarborough) shoal is ours. If it is, then I will be really happy, and so will my fellow fishermen,” said Fred Manzano, a fisherman from the coastal town of Masinloc near the Scarborough Shoal which has seen various encounters with the Chinese coastguard.
The case, brought by the Philippines in 2013, hinges on the legal status of reefs, rocks and artificial islands in the Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Island Group.
The South China Sea is one of the world’s vital shipping lanes, through which a total of $5 trillion in trade is carried every year, and the ruling could further ramp up tensions in the region, where China’s increased military assertiveness has spread concern among its smaller neighbours and is a point of confrontation with the United States.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea but its claim is firmly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan which have overlapping claims over the area.
Meanwhile, on Monday, China activated four out of five lighthouses planned for use in the South China Sea, firming up its hold on the disputed region ahead of the verdict which could threaten its expansive claims in the area.
(With inputs from agencies)