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U.N. Arbitration Court Dismissing China’s Territorial Claims in the South China Sea

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Protesters shout slogans during a rally outside of the Chinese Consulate hours before the Hague-based UN international arbitration tribunal is to announce its ruling on the South China Sea, July 12, 2016, in Makati city, east of Manila, Philippines.

According to VOA News, in a landmark ruling, the U.N. arbitration court is dismissing China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, saying it has “no historic title” to the vast maritime region.

Tuesday’s ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration answers a complaint brought by the Philippines in 2013 that accused Beijing of violating the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with its aggressive actions on the Scarborough Shoal, a reef located about 225 kilometers off the Philippine coast.

Chinese President Xi Jinping rejected the ruling and said “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests in the South China Sea” will not be affected. China’s foreign ministry said on its website, “The award is null and void and has no binding force.”

The court said Beijing’s claim of virtual sovereignty over nearly all the South China Sea under a so-called “nine-dash line” runs contrary to UNCLOS, which sets a country’s maritime boundaries 22 kilometers from its coast, and control over economic activities up to 370 kilometers from its coast.  The court ruled China had violated Manila’s sovereign rights by interfering with Philippine fishing and oil exploration activities in the area.

In Manila, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay called the ruling “a milestone decision” in a press conference moments after the announcement.  Yasay said the ruling makes “an important contribution” to resolving the ongoing maritime disputes, and urged all parties “to exercise restraint and sobriety.”   New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has called for bilateral negotiations to resolve the controversy.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby called the ruling “an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea.”

FILE - This aerial photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows China's alleged reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 11, 2015.

FILE – This aerial photo taken through a glass window of a military plane shows China’s alleged reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 11, 2015.

China had boycotted the proceedings at the court, saying the body has no jurisdiction over the dispute, and insists it will not accept, recognize or implement any ruling on the South China Sea, despite being a signatory to UNCLOS along with the Philippines.  In a statement issued just hours before The Hague panel announced its decision, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said it would not accept “any so-called material” from the court.

Analysts said the court ruling is a significant decision in favor of the Philippines.

Ernest Bower with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “China now faces reality that if it continues to assert, through actions and words” its claims in the region, “it is breaking the law.”

Amarjit Singh, a senior consultant at the British think tank IHS, said the ruling “undermines China’s claims in the South China Sea and potentially limits China’s negotiating stance” with other countries that have also asserted claims there, including, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Chinese dissatisfaction

State media Xinhua and online netizens expressed strong dissatisfaction the ruling. A Weibo user said in his posting that “We should unite behind the country’s claim and make no concessions on the South China Sea dispute even if we have to go to war,” while another user said “China should show no fear for any future economic sanction” shall China decide not to comply with the order.

In its harsh-worded editorial, Xinhua even lambasted the international arbitration court to be “the source of chaos.”

Meanwhile, the ruling is coming in the midst of the two-day EU-China bilateral talks, which began in Beijing on Tuesday. The EU advised China to stick to rules and abide by the ruling. German think tank, Mecator, said the EU would never grant China’s request for a Market Economy Status if Beijing defies the court decision.

An estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes each year through the South China Sea, which is home to rich fishing grounds and a potentially vast wealth of oil, gas and other natural resources.

About 100 demonstrators marched outside the Chinese consulate in Manila, calling on Beijing to relinquish the Scarborough Shoal, shouting “Chexit Now” – a play on the term coined for Britain’s controversial push to leave the European Union.

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