An arbitration tribunal in The Hague has rejected China’s claims to economic rights across large swaths of the South China Sea, in a ruling that will be claimed as a victory by the Philippines.
“There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’,” the Permanent Court of Arbitration said on Tuesday, referring to a demarcation line on a 1947 map of the sea.
The South China Sea is a resource-rich strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped each year.
In the 497-page ruling, the court also found that Chinese law enforcement patrols had risked colliding with Philippine fishing vessels in parts of the sea and caused irreparable damage to coral reefs with construction work.
China, which boycotted the case brought by the Philippines, rejected the ruling, saying its islands had exclusive economic zones and the Chinese people have more than 2,000 years of history of activities there.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country “will not accept” the decision adding that China “under any circumstances, will not be affected by the award”, Xinhua state news agency reported.
Al Jazeera, reporting from Beijing, said: “It’s fair to assume that the Chinese government knew which way this was going to go.”
“Within minutes of the decision, the Chinese government released a fairly detailed statement restating why China always believes these island belongs to them, so now the question is really what is going to happen in the coming days.”
China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, including the Spratlys and Paracels, and Beijing’s position is consistent with international law and practice, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
Al Jazeera also reported from Manila that the Philippine government has “called for calm in terms of how to move forward after the decision despite now having gained leverage with this court ruling”.
“President Rodrigo Duterte seems to want to retain friendly relationship and open ties with China. However, there is concern among many Filipinos here that its current government might be a little too friendly,” it said.