AMSTERDAM An arbitration court in the Netherlands ruled on Thursday 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 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.
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 and China’s decision not to participate did “not deprive the tribunal of jurisdiction”.
Bonnie Glaser, a South China Sea expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, called the outcome “a major blow for China given that the opinion explicitly rejects China’s arguments that … the Philippines has not done enough to negotiate the issues with China.”
The court said it could hear the arguments including one contending that several South China Sea reefs and shoals were not important enough to base territorial claims on. China has been building artificial islands on reefs in the sea and claiming control over the waters within a 12-mile radius.
On seven other submissions, including that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to exploit its own territorial waters, the court said it would reserve judgment about jurisdiction until it had decided the merits of the case.
No date has been set for the next hearings, which will also be closed to the public.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration was established in the Netherlands in 1899 to encourage peaceful resolution of disputes between states, organisations and private parties. China and the Philippines are among its 117 member countries.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Toby Sterling; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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