International

China rejects Hague tribunal ruling as “null and void”

A file photo 'reclaimed Mischief Reef of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. An international tribunal has found that there is no legal basis for China's claiming rights to much of the South China Sea.  

China on Tuesday rejected an international ruling on the South China Sea, which went in favour of the Philippines, as “null and void” and devoid of any “binding force”.

Two statements, one by the Chinese government, and another by the Foreign Ministry, strongly defended Chinese claims in the South China Sea, following an unfavourable verdict on Tuesday by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

“With regard to the award rendered on 12 July 2016 by the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration established at the unilateral request of the Republic of the Philippines (hereinafter referred to as the "Arbitral Tribunal"), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China solemnly declares that the award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognises it,” the Foreign Ministry statement asserted.

The Chinese response follows the ruling by the 5-member international tribunal, which rejected the legal validity of the nine-dash line—the demarcation line underlying Beijing’s claim to most of the South China

Sea. "There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line'," the court ruled.

The court opined that the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea superseded China's "Nine-dash line" – the locus of China’ 69-year-old claim to nearly 85 percent of the South China Sea. The tribunal at the PCA also ruled that Beijing does not have a "historic title" over the waters of the South China Sea.

Besides, the court slammed China for damaging parts of the ecosystem in the Spratly islands — a contested archipelago-- on account of overfishing and development of artificial islands.

But in its riposte, the Chinese Foreign Ministry strongly asserted that Beijing’s “territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards”.

The statement also accused the Philippines of “bad faith” by pursuing a unilateral course at The Hague. Manila’s aim, it said, was “not to resolve the relevant disputes between China and the Philippines, or to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, but to deny China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea”.

Yet, differentiating between the government of Benigno Aquino, which had knocked on the PCA’s door in 2013, and the current administration of Rodrigo Duterte , the Chinese side said it was looking forward to a dialogue with Manila. “We have noted that the new Philippine government has expressed its willingness to hold a bilateral dialogue with China in a bid to promote common development and properly manage the dispute between the two sides. Our door to that is widely open,” observed Lu Kang, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson in his daily briefing on Tuesday.

China has also stressed that rather than a question of legality, the arbitration sought by the Philippines masked Washington’s pursuit of geopolitical dominance in the Asia-Pacific routed through Manila. Mr. Lu attributed the current crisis in the South China Sea mainly to the US Rebalance doctrine that has led to accumulation of US forces in the Asia-Pacific.

“Before the implementation of the so-called rebalance of the Asia-Pacific by the US, the South China sea was very tranquil and peaceful. But then here come the Americans and their policy of rebalance to Asia; and things have changed,” he observed.

A blunt editorial in People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC) also observed that “the arbitration case is actually a trap set by the US and the Philippines in which the arbitral tribunal has played the role of an accomplice”.

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