The Hague : In a major diplomatic blow, an international tribunal on Tuesday quashed China’s territorial claims to the South China Sea, triggering an angry response from President Xi Jinping who vowed not to accept it “under any circumstances”.
Xi’s strong remarks came after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that there is no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over the waters or their resources.
The South China Sea is a marginal sea that is part of the Pacific Ocean; it is a resource rich strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion worth of global trade is shipped each year. Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea and has placed runways and radar facilities on islets it has created in the disputed sea after piling huge amounts of sand onto reefs.
China assertion of sovereignty in the strategically vital waters was challenged by the Philippines which had argued that the claims don’t comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The tribunal 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 Philippines was engaged in diplomatic wrangling with China over the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratlys in particular.
Analysts said the result represents a major loss of face for China which views the South China Sea as its own backyard. Chinese state media has, however, said Beijing will not take a “single step back” after the ruling. While the decision is legally binding, there is no mechanism for enforcing it.
Beijing had waged a month-long campaign to discredit the Arbitration panel, which it says has no jurisdiction in the dispute, and it had refused to take part in the case.
China had stepped up its assertions under President Xi Jinping, straining ties with several nations, including Vietnam. The spat is essentially a tussle for strategic influence in the western Pacific between the U.S., which has dominated the region since World War II, and an ascendant China. The ruling is likely to “escalate the war of words”, experts said, but ‘‘escalation to military standoffs is not inevitable.” The Philippine embassy in China has warned its citizens to beware of personal “threats” and avoid political debates.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration has accused China of interfering with the Philippines’ fishing and petroleum exploration, building artificial islands in the waters and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone, media reports said.
The tribunal held that fishermen from the Philippines had traditional fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, and that China had interfered with these rights by restricting their access.
The court further held that Chinese law enforcement vessels unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels in the region.
CHINA IS LIVID AND DEFIANT
China has firmly rejected an international tribunal ruling that its claims to rights in the South China Sea have no legal basis. President Xi Jinping said China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” in the seas would not be affected by the ruling “in any way”. But he insisted China was still “committed to resolving disputes” with its neighbours. The Tribunal’s ruling is significant as it is the first time that Chinese expansionist designs have been challenged in an area that covers some of the world’s most promising oil and gas fields and fishing grounds. It reflects the 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. Beijing had rejected the tribunal’s authority and refused to participate in the case that Manila had brought against it, denouncing it as a plot against China led by the US. Besides the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
- Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea • • It has placed runways and radar facilities on artificial islands it has created in the disputed sea after piling huge amounts of sand onto reefs •
- The ‘historical’ claims have been disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and others •
INDIA STUDYING THE ORDER
New Delhi: India is “carefully studying” the verdict of the UN-backed tribunal, External Affairs Ministry said in a statement here.