Tribunal overwhelmingly rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Tribunal overwhelmingly rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims
Tribunal overwhelmingly rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims
An arbitration court ruled on Tuesday that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and has breached the Philippines' sovereign rights with its actions, infuriating Beijing which dismissed the case as a farce.
A defiant China, which boycotted the hearings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, vowed again to ignore the ruling and said its armed forces would defend its sovereignty and maritime interests.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency said shortly before the ruling was announced that a Chinese civilian aircraft had successfully tested two new airports in the disputed Spratly Islands.
And China's Defence Ministry said a new guided missile destroyer was formally commissioned at a naval base on the southern island province of Hainan, which has responsibility for the South China Sea.
"This award represents a devastating legal blow to China's jurisdictional claims in the South China Sea," Ian Storey, of Singapore's ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute, told Reuters.
"China will respond with fury, certainly in terms of rhetoric and possibly through more aggressive actions at sea."
The United States, which China has accused of fuelling tensions and militarizing the region with patrols and exercises, said the ruling should be treated as final and binding.
"We certainly would urge all parties not to use this as an opportunity to engage in escalatory or provocative action," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in a briefing.
U.S. officials have previously said they feared China may respond to the ruling by declaring an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did in the East China Sea in 2013, or by stepping up its building and fortification of artificial islands.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Finding for the Philippines on a number of issues, the panel said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line, which covers almost 90 percent of the South China Sea.
It said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank.
None of China's reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, it added.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to resolve the disputes in a "peaceful and amicable manner through dialogue and in conformity with international law."
"2,000 YEARS OF HISTORY"
China's Foreign Ministry rejected the ruling, saying its people had more than 2,000 years of history in the South China Sea, that its islands did have exclusive economic zones and that it had announced to the world its "dotted line" map in 1948.
"China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards," it said.
However, the ministry also repeated that China respected and upheld the freedom of navigation and overflight and that China was ready to keep resolving the disputes peacefully through talks with states directly concerned.
Julia Guifang Xue, a professor of international law at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that given Beijing's sensitivity about sovereignty and security "we won't be surprised to see some kind of renewed effort by China to consolidate its claim in the area."
In a statement shortly before the ruling, China's Defence Ministry said its armed forces would "firmly safeguard national sovereignty, security and maritime interests and rights, firmly uphold regional peace and stability, and deal with all kinds of threats and challenges"
The judges acknowledged China's refusal to participate, but said they sought to take account of China's position from its statements and diplomatic correspondence.
"The award is a complete and total victory for the Philippines ... a victory for international law and international relations," said Paul Reichler, lead lawyer for the Philippines.
Vietnam said it welcomed the ruling.
Taiwan, which maintains that the island it occupies, Itu Aba, is legally the only island among hundreds of reefs, shoals and atolls scattered across the seas, said it did not accept the ruling, which seriously impaired Taiwan's territorial rights.
"This is the worst scenario," Taiwan Foreign Minister David Tawei Lee told reporters, promising unspecified "action" from Taipei.
The ruling is significant as it is the first time that a legal challenge has been brought in the dispute, which covers some of the world's most promising oil and gas fields and vital fishing grounds. [bit.ly/29AlvXc]
It reflects the shifting balance of power in the 3.5 million sq km sea, where China has been expanding its presence by building artificial islands and dispatching patrol boats that keep Philippine fishing vessels away.
Andrew Mertha, a China specialist at Cornell University in the United States, said the ruling further isolated China internationally.
"Domestically, Beijing has painted itself into a corner and may find itself compelled to act in a potentially reckless fashion, if only to demonstrate to its domestic audience that it is not ... an 'empty cannon' in the eyes of its own citizens."
The Philippines said it was studying the ruling.
"We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety," Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay told a news conference. "The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea."
Japan said the ruling was legally binding and final.
The court has no power of enforcement, but a victory for the Philippines could spur Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei to file similar cases.
Ahead of the ruling, around 100 members of a Philippine nationalist group demonstrated outside the Chinese consulate in Manila, calling on Beijing to accept the decision and leave the Scarborough Shoal, a popular fishing zone off limits to Filipinos since 2012.
In China, social media users reacted with outrage at the ruling.
"It was ours in the past, is now and will remain so in the future," wrote one user on microblogging site Weibo. "Those who encroach on our China's territory will die no matter how far away they are."
Spreading fast on social media in the Philippines was the use of the term "Chexit" - the public's desire for Chinese vessels to leave the waters.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam, Enrico Dela Cruz and Martin Petty in Manila, Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing, Tim Kelly in Tokyo, John Walcott, David Brunnstrom and Jeff Mason in Washington, JR Wu in Taipei and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Grant McCool)
A new agreement between the United States and the Philippines clears the way for a new permanent American military presence across five bases that will support rotational deployments near the contested South China Sea.
The bases include:
Antonio Bautista Air Base. Located near the capital of the island province of Palawan, which is strategically located near the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Basa Air Base. Located about 40 miles northwest of the Philippines' capital, Manila, the air base was originally constructed by the U.S. Army Air Corps before the Second World War.
Fort Magsaysay. Located on the northern Island of Luzon, Fort Magsaysay is the largest military installation in the Philippines, and is one of the primary training areas of the Philippine Army.
Lumbia Air Base. Located on the southern island of Mindanao, the air base is connected to a civilian airport. Local media reports say construction of a new U.S. facility will begin soon.
Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base. Located on Mactan Island of the coast of Cebu in the central Philippines. It was originally built by the U.S. Air Force before the American pullout in the early 1990s.
The U.S. will be setting up “permanent logistics facilities to support rotational deployments,” said one defense official familiar with the agreement. The Pentagon is likely to invest heavily on construction projects to enhance capacity at those five bases.
The agreement was finalized Friday.
The rotational presence could, in effect, leave U.S. military assets and personnel on the ground in the Philippines for long periods if the missions are approved by the government in Manila.
The U.S. military presence in the Philippines, a former American colony, was once fiercely opposed by many Filipinos, partly because of notorious rowdy behavior and misconduct that was common among troops during the Vietnam era when the Philippines offered war fighters a respite from the combat zone. That led to the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in the early 1990s.
But the Filipino government has recently sought new support from the United States as China has grown more aggressive in asserting territorial claims and conducting military-style operations near Filipino shores.
The list of bases surprised many analysts who expected it to include some of the former U.S. military outposts such as Naval Station Subic Bay and Naval Air Station Cubi Point, both strategically located on the northwest coast, or Clark Air Base near Manila. Those facilities were a backbone of logistics support during the Vietnam War.
China has stepped up its military activity in the region by claiming small uninhabited islands and even building new ones in the South China Sea off the western shores of the Philippines.
It's likely that the American presence there will grow slowly because China's activities have threatened the stability of the region, which includes vital trade routes for global economy.
"I suspect that it will ramp up slowly," said Jan van Tol, a retired U.S. Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. "A suddenly much larger U.S. presence, even if just a rotational presence, that can be seen, certainty in Beijing, that this is a ratcheting up of a U.S.-Chinese competition in the South China Sea."
Van Tol noted the Antonio Bautista Air Base on Palawan is very close to the Spratly Islands where China has made its controversial territorial claims. "That puts them much closer to the scene where the Chinese are using what we consider to be illegitimate activities," he said.
The announcement of the five bases comes almost two years after President Obama visited the Philippines in 2014 and signed a new 10-year agreement with the former U.S colony. The future U.S. activity in the Philippines may include Marine Corps units rotating through the country like the ongoing mission in Darwin, Australia.
MANILA — An international tribunal issued a sweeping condemnation Tuesday of China’s claims and conduct in the disputed
South China Sea, setting the stage for further escalation of tensions in the region.
China said it did not recognize the ruling, which it described as "null and void." The case was brought by the Philippines over China’s vast territorial claims and island-building in the region.
The ruling from the
Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, is the first to address competing claims and interests among a half-dozen countries fronting the South China Sea.
The panel said any historic rights to resources that China may have had were invalid if they are incompatible with exclusive economic zones established under a United Nations treaty.
The tribunal also ruled that China caused “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, “unlawfully” interfered with fishermen from the Philippines, and engaged in a massive land-reclamation and island-building campaign that is “incompatible” with international obligations.
“The award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Tuesday.
“China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards," the ministry said. "China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards."
China has claimed virtually all of the South China Sea, a crucial waterway used for an estimated $5 trillion in annual trade. China’s claims are based largely on a vaguely drawn map.
The Philippines filed the suit in 2013, after China seized a rich fishing region known as the Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines claims that area as part of its exclusive economic zone.
“This historic decision not only vindicates the Philippines’ claims, it provides much-needed clarity concerning the parties’ legal rights and obligations under the (U.N.) Law of the Sea Convention,” said Paul Reichler, the Philippines’ lead attorney in the case.
Five other countries, including the Philippines, have overlapping claims in the region.
“The tribunal’s ruling not only benefits the Philippines, it also benefits other states bordering the South China Sea like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam,” Reichler said. “If China’s (vague map) is invalid as to the Philippines, it is equally invalid to those states and, indeed, the rest of the international community.”
The Philippines is willing to share natural resources with Beijing in contested South China Sea areas, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay says. Video provided by AFP Newslook
Curtis Chin, former U.S. ambassador to the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, said: "China's insistence on promoting its version of history as a basis for control over much of the South China Sea had also become a test case for how the rest of the region would respond to an increasingly assertive, if not aggressive, Chinese government.
"What will be important is to now find a way for all parties to move forward. That will likely need to include a 'face-saving' way for China to back down from its saber-rattling stance."
U.S. and Chinese warships have engaged in an increasingly tense game of cat and mouse in the disputed waters. U.S. officials have expressed concern that China could use the new islands as military bases to restrict air and sea navigation in the region. The United States does not take sides in specific territorial disputes.
The U.S. has increased its naval presence in the South China Sea and last year began conducting “freedom of navigation operations” around the new islands.
China responded by boosting its naval presence in the region and conducting close surveillance of U.S. warships on routine patrols. China’s navy on Monday wrapped up a weeklong exercise in the northern South China Sea that included nearly 100 warships and dozens of fighter planes.
The U.S. currently has an aircraft carrier battle group and a “surface action group” operating in the South China Sea.
Tuesday's tribunal ruling is likely to increase tensions even more, said M. Taylor Fravel, associate professor of political science at MIT’s Security Studies Program.
“The sweeping nature of the ruling will affirm American views of China as aggressive in the South China Sea, and will affirm Chinese views of American hostility, as China believes the United States to be behind the arbitration process,” Fravel said.
The United States has a security treaty with the Philippines and has sent troops, ships and warplanes to train in the Philippines in recent years to show support.
Although China is unlikely to initiate military action in response to the ruling, it could declare an air identification zone, increase harassment of Philippine fishermen or take other provocative actions, said Dennis Blair, chairman of Sasakawa USA, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.
“We should give China the space to walk back off the diplomatic ledge they’ve put themselves on, and not make it more difficult for them. (But) we should continue the robust military exercising we’ve always done in the South China Sea,” said Blair, a retired Navy admiral and former commander of U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.
Sean King, an Asia specialist with the Park Strategies consulting firm, said the ruling is unlikely to resolve the competing claims in the South China Sea.
“The decision is a rhetorical rebuke for Beijing, but it won't mean much in the real world other than to galvanize forces already hostile to Beijing. This is just a step in a long process,” King said.
Spitzer reported from Tokyo. Contributing: Jane Onyanga-Omara in London.
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