Judges at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague have rejected China’s claims to economic rights across large swathes of the South China Sea, in a ruling that will be claimed as a victory by the Philippines.
The permanent Court for Arbitration said China’s claims to historic rights were contrary to UN convention.
“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 said, referring to a demarcation line on a 1947 map of the sea, which is rich in energy, mineral and fishing resources.
Analysis: China correspondent Matthew Carney
China has called it a farce and they won’t acknowledge these rulings.
What’s likely to happen now is that we will probably see a hardening of position and words on the diplomatic and political fronts.
Really, the next issue is whether China will declare a no-fly zone or whether it will build more islands and potentially this could lead to limited conflict.
I don’t even think the Chinese were expecting it to come down this hard. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s pretty emphatic.
The Hague has spelt out that China has spent the last two to three years shoring up its position in the South China Sea. It’s built seven islands there in the last two years.
China’s based a lot of its rhetoric and resurgent nationalism is based on this. This is a huge blow for China.
We will wait and see in the coming days and months what the response is going to be. But certainly, at least, we are going to see an up take in rhetoric and probably we are going to see some pretty strident words.
In the 497-page ruling, judges 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 has no entitlement to an economic zone within 320 kilometres of Mischief Reef or Thomas Shoal, the tribunal ruled.
In response to the ruling, The Philippines’ Foreign Affairs Secretary called on those concerned to exercise “restraint and sobriety”.
“Our experts are studying this award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves,” Perfecto Yasay said.
“We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety. The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision.”
Before the decision, China had said it would have nothing to do with the court.
“We won’t accept any of their so-called materials, no matter what they are,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the “law-abusing tribunal” had issued an “ill-founded award”.
In a dispatch from Manila, Xinhua said the ruling was made “amid a global chorus that as the panel has no jurisdiction, its decision is naturally null and void”.
Vietnam, China, Malaysia have eyes on the prize
Explore the conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea
Rich in resources and traversed by a quarter of global shipping, the South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes that threaten to escalate tensions in the region.
At the heart of these disputes are a series of barren islands in two groups – the Spratly Islands, off the coast of the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, off the coasts of Vietnam and China.