Bei­jing fury as tri­bunal re­jects South China Sea claims

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Bei­jing fu­ri­ously re­jected an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal rul­ing Tues­day that ren­dered its claims in the South China Sea in­valid and dealt a dev­as­tat­ing diplo­matic blow to its am­bi­tions in the re­source-rich re­gion.

China as­serts sovereignt­y over al­most all of the strate­gi­cally vi­tal waters, de­spite ri­val claims from its South­east Asian neigh­bours, most no­tably the Philip­pines.

But on Tues­day a UN-backed tri­bunal in The Hague -- the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion -- ruled that China has no his­toric rights to the area.

Manila -- which had lodged the suit against Bei­jing -- wel­comed the de­ci­sion, as China, hav­ing boy­cotted the pro­ceed­ings, said it “nei­ther ac­cepts nor recog­nises” the rul­ing.

“The award is null and void and has no bind­ing force,” China’s for­eign min­istry said on its web­site, re­it­er­at­ing its ter­ri­to­rial claims.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping said the is­lands have been Chi­nese ter­ri­tory since an­cient times and Bei­jing will not ac­cept any ac­tion based on the de­ci­sion, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency.

The Asian gi­ant’s Am­bas­sador to the Nether­lands Wu Ken was mean­while quoted by Xin­hua as say­ing “to­day is ‘black Tues­day for The Hague” and that “the rul­ing “dis­hon­ours in­ter­na­tional law”.

China’s claims, which in­clude waters ap­proach­ing neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, are based on a vaguely de­fined “nine-dash-line” found on a 1940s Chi­nese map.

The row has em­broiled the United States, which has de­ployed air­craft car­ri­ers and a host of other ves­sels to as­sert free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the waters -- through which one-third of the global oil trade passes.

China says that its fish­er­men have vis­ited the area for cen­turies, but the PCA tri­bunal said that un­der the UN Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Bei­jing had no ex­clu­sive con­trol of it.

Any his­toric rights were “ex­tin­guished” when it signed up to UNCLOS, it said, and there was “no le­gal ba­sis for China to claim his­toric rights to resources within the sea ar­eas fall­ing within the ‘nine-dash line’,” it said.

Cru­cially, it ruled that none of the Spratlys, a chain of out­crops in the south of the sea, were “is­lands” un­der the mean­ing of UNCLOS, and thus who­ever had sovereignt­y over them -- an is­sue it did not ad­dress -was not en­ti­tled to 200-nau­ti­cal-mile ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zones (EEZs) of their own.

Some sea ar­eas were there­fore def­i­nitely in the Philip­pines’ EEZ, it said, as they were “not over­lapped by any pos­si­ble en­ti­tle­ment of China”.

China had vi­o­lated the Philip­pines’ sovereign rights in its EEZ and the ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands Bei­jing has been fu­ri­ously build­ing in re­cent years -re­shap­ing the area in an ef­fort to bol­ster its claim -- have in­flicted severe en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, it added.

‘Branded as an out­law’

The damn­ing de­ci­sion was “as un­favourable to China as it can be”, said Yan­meiXie, China an­a­lyst for the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group.

The award by the five-mem­ber panel -- chaired by a Ghana­ian -“over­whelm­ingly favours the Philip­pines -- a huge win,” said M. Tay­lor Fravel of the Massachuse­tts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

China has con­sis­tently said the tri­bunal does not have ju­ris­dic­tion on the is­sue and Xin­hua re­ported the rul­ing un­der the head­line: “Law-abus­ing tri­bunal is­sues ill-founded award”.

In Wash­ing­ton, the State Depart­ment said the rul­ing was an “im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion” to re­solv­ing re­gional dis­putes and should be seen as “fi­nal and legally bind­ing”.

China is a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and has been seek­ing a greater role on the global diplo­matic stage, and will not want to be seen as a vi­o­la­tor of in­ter­na­tional law.

But how the de­ci­sion could be en­forced re­mains open to ques­tion, Richard Hey­dar­ian, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at De La Salle Univer­sity in Manila, told AFP.

Xin­hua cited For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi as say­ing China would re­main com­mit­ted to peace­ful set­tle­ment of dis­putes through consultati­on and ne­go­ti­a­tion.

‘Tough re­ac­tion’

Bei­jing has held naval drills be­tween the Paracels and the south­ern Chi­nese is­land of Hainan in re­cent days, while US Pa­cific Com­mand said on Twit­ter that the air­craft car­rier USS Ron­ald Rea­gan had launched flight oper­a­tions to sup­port “se­cu­rity, sta­bil­ity” in the South China Sea.

Bon­nie Glaser of the Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies told AFP: “I ex­pect a very tough re­ac­tion from China since it has lost on al­most every point.”

China could choose to with­draw from UNCLOS, or be­gin build­ing on Scar­bor­ough Shoal, which it seized from the Philip­pines in 2012 -- which Wash­ing­ton would view as a provo­ca­tion.

Bei­jing could also de­clare an air de­fence iden­ti­fi­ca­tion zone over the South China Sea, claim­ing the right to in­ter­ro­gate air­craft pass­ing through the airspace, or try to re­move a ship grounded by Manila on Sec­ond Thomas Shoal for use as a base.

The Philip­pines, which had lodged the suit in 2013, wel­comed the “mile­stone de­ci­sion”, and for­eign sec­re­tary Per­fecto Yasay said: “We call on all those con­cerned to ex­er­cise re­straint and so­bri­ety.”

Na­tion­al­ist demon­stra­tions are not rare in China, some­times ap­par­ently with the tacit back­ing of au­thor­i­ties, and the Philip­pine em­bassy in Bei­jing has warned its cit­i­zens to be­ware of per­sonal “threats”.

Chi­nese po­lice sealed off the street where the mis­sion stands.

Pro­test­ers demon­strate in Hong Kong against the rul­ing in the Hague. Photo: EPA

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