International court backs Philippines in South China Sea dispute

Jessica Morris
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China claimed it had historic rights resources within a 'nine-dash line' (Source: Getty)

A United Nations tribunal today ruled in favour of the Philippines, in a case it bought against Chinese claims to maritime rights in the South China Sea.

Beijing had ramped up its rhetoric ahead of the decision, with president Xi Jinping warning earlier this month that it is "not afraid of trouble".

But the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected its claim to historical rights over resources spanning the vast majority of the contested area.

The nine-dash line is found in 1940s maps and covers much of the South China sea. However, it overlaps with other states' claims to coral reefs and islands there, set out in more recent international law.

The legally binding decision does not have any enforcement measures, however it carries significant implications for geopolitical relations in the region.

[The] tribunal concluded that, to the extent China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for the convention.

The tribunal also noted that, although Chinese navigators and fishermen, as well as those of other states, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.

The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line'.

Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of think tank The Henry Jackson Society, said: "China's attempts to create a nine-dash line for power projection and natural resource extraction purposes should now cease."

"The challenge will now be to ensure China complies with the ruling and stops creating facts on the ground contrary to the judgement."

But China, which didn't attend any of the court's hearings, vowed again to ignore the ruling and said its armed forces would defend its sovereignty and maritime interests.

The Philippine foreign affairs secretary, Perfecto Yasay, welcomed the ruling as he called for “restraint and sobriety.”

The Philippines first lodged its case three years ago under the United Nations' 1982 Convention of the Law of the Sea, which China had also signed and ratified.

The Philippines outlined 15 instances in which China's claims and actions had violated international law as per the convention.

In 2015 the court said it had jurisdiction on seven of those, however it was yet to decide on the other eight.

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