Manila (dpa) – The Philippine government on Friday welcomed a UN tribunal’s decision that it can rule in an increasingly heated dispute between Manila and Beijing over territories in the South China Sea.
The Philippines first brought the case to the tribunal in 2013, arguing that Beijing’s claim to almost the entire sea is invalid because it contravenes the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
China’s “nine-dash line” that marks its territorial claims over the area has also put it at odds with Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Earlier this week, the United States sailed a warship through the South China Sea, a key shipping lane, in order to underline freedom of navigation in the area, provoking an angry response from China.
In the case filed at the tribunal in January 2013, Manila also contends that China’s aggressive reclamation activities in the sea violate the UN convention.
“The decision represents a significant step forward in the Philippines’ quest for a peaceful, impartial resolution of the disputes between parties,” Philippine Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said.
China’s Foreign Ministry said the ruling was “null and void, and has no binding effect” on Beijing, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
On Thursday, China’s naval commander expressed “deep concern” over the patrol of a US Navy destroyer in the South China Sea during a dialogue aimed at easing tensions caused by the sail-through.
“Such dangerous and provocative acts have threatened China’s sovereignty and security and harmed regional peace and stability,” Admiral Wu Shengli of the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy told his US counterpart Admiral John Richardson.
Wu warned that China will “have to take all necessary measures to safeguard sovereignty and security” if the United States persists going its own way and ignoring China’s concern.
In its October 29 ruling, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said it has jurisdiction over the case because both Beijing and Manila are parties to the UNCLOS, binding them to its provisions on the settlement of disputes.
It stressed that the Philippines’ case concerned the interpretation or application of the UNCLOS, which delineates exclusive economic zones as guidelines to nations’ rights in using the world’s oceans.
China has refused to participate in the arbitration and stressed it has historic rights over the sea, which is believed to be rich in marine and mineral resources.