Beijing loses S China Sea claim

Beijing loses S China Sea claim

Tribunal upholds Manila's rights

Beijing loses S China Sea claim

An international court ruled on Tuesday that China has no historic title over the South China Sea and has breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by itsactions in the region.

China, which boycotted the proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, rejected the ruling. But analysts said it was a “huge win” for the Philippines, which brought the case.

The resource-rich, strategically vital waters of the South China Sea are disputed between the Asian giant — which claims almost all of them on the basis of a “nine-dash line” that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s — and several other countries, including the Philippines.

The row has embroiled the United States, which has deployed aircraft carriers and a host of other vessels to assert freedom of navigation in 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 under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Beijing had not had 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, meaning that whoever had sovereignty over them — an issue it did not address — were 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 facts in the water in an effort to bolster its claim — have inflicted severe environmental damage, it added. The damning decision was “as unfavourable to China as it can be”, said Yanmei Xie, 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 MIT.
Manila welcomed the decision. 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: “China has been branded as an outlaw in unequivocal terms. US, Japan and other major powers should now focus on enforcing this binding verdict if China fails to comply.”

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.

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