An arbitration court in the Netherlands ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear some territorial claims the Philippines has filed against China over disputed areas in the South China Sea.
In a legal defeat for China, the Hague-based tribunal on Thursday rejected Beijing’s claim that the disputes were about its territorial sovereignty and said additional hearings would be held to decide the merits of the Philippines’ arguments, Reuters reported.
China has boycotted the proceedings and rejects the court’s authority in the case. Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, dismissing claims to parts of it from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
The tribunal found it has authority to hear seven of Manila’s submissions under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and China’s decision not to participate did “not deprive the tribunal of jurisdiction”.
The United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines, welcomed the decision, according to a senior US defense official.
Earlier this week a US guided-missile warship challenged Beijing’s pursuit of territorial claims by sailing close to artificial islands China has constructed in the South China Sea.
“This demonstrates the relevance of international law to the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official added: “It demonstrates that sovereign claims are not necessarily indisputable and it shows that judging issues like this on the basis of international law and international practice are a viable way of, at a minimum, managing territorial conflicts if not resolving them.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby told a regular news briefing that in accordance with the terms of UNCLOS, the decision of the tribunal would be legally binding on both the Philippines and China.
John McCain, chairman of US Senate’s armed services committee, hailed the Hague ruling.
“Today’s ruling is an important step forward in upholding international law against China’s attempts to assert vast and, in my view, questionable claims in the South China Sea,” he said.
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