An international court said on Wednesday it would deliver a hotly anticipated ruling in the Philippines’ case against China over the South China Sea on July 12, drawing an immediate rebuke from Beijing, which rejects the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
The United States, which is a close ally of the Philippines and is concerned about China’s expansive South China Sea claims, reiterated its backing for The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration and urged a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
Manila is contesting China’s historical claim to about 90 per cent of the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Several Southeast Asian states have overlapping claims in the sea and the dispute has sparked concerns of a military confrontation that could disrupt global trade.
In a lengthy statement after the court’s announcement of the July 12 ruling date, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Manila’s approach flouted international law.
“I again stress that the arbitration court has no jurisdiction in the case and on the relevant matter, and should not hold hearings or make a ruling,” he said.
“The Philippines’ unilateral lodging of the South China Sea arbitration case is contrary to international law.”
He said: “On the issue of territory and disputes over maritime delineation, China does not accept any dispute resolution from a third party and does not accept any dispute resolution forced on China.”
In Manila, presidential communications secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said the Philippines “expects a just and fair ruling that will promote peace and stability in the region”.
US state department spokeswoman Anna Richey-Allen reiterated US backing for the court. “We support the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, including the use of international legal mechanisms such as arbitration.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency said the court was a “law-abusing tribunal” that had “widely contested jurisdiction.” It said the case would only worsen the dispute.
“Manila fails to see that such an arbitration will only stir up more trouble in the South China Sea, which doesn’t serve the interests of the concerned parties in the least,” it said.
The case “even threatens to further complicate the issue by giving certain parties in the disputes the false impression they could profit by deliberately creating chaos”, Xinhua added.
China’s bases its South China Sea claim on a so-called “Nine Dash line” stretching deep into the maritime heart of southeast Asia and covering hundreds of disputed islands and reefs, rich fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits.
The Philippines argues that China’s claim violates the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and restricts its rights to exploit resources and fishing areas within its exclusive economic zone.
US officials are worried China may respond to what is widely expected to be a negative ruling for Beijing by declaring an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did in the East China Sea in 2013, and by stepping up its building and fortification of artificial islands.
US officials say that beyond diplomatic pressure, the US response to such moves could include accelerated “freedom-of-navigation” patrols by US warships and overflights by US aircraft as well as increased defense aid to southeast Asian countries.
China has accused the United States of “hyping” the issue and warned in May that international complaints about its actions in the South China Sea would snap back on its critics. But it has largely avoided specific threats of how it might respond to the arbitration ruling.