An angry China has rejected as “null and void” the verdict of a UN-backed international tribunal which struck down its claims over the South China Sea. China says Beijing has no “historic rights” in the disputed area.
China “neither accepts nor recognises” the ruling of a tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration established at the request of the Philippines, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
“The award is null and void and has no binding force,” it said in a statement minutes after the five judge tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered its judgement striking down Beijing’s claims of historic rights over the area, strongly disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea (SCS) shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards, the statement quoted by state-run Xinhua new agency said.
“China has territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea,” said a separate statement titled ‘Statement of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on China’s Territorial Sovereignty and Maritime Rights and Interests in the South China Sea’.
“China is always firmly opposed to the invasion and illegal occupation by certain states of some islands and reefs of China’s Nansha Qundao (the Nansha Islands) (called by Philippines as Spratleys), and activities infringing upon China’s rights and interests in relevant maritime areas under China’s jurisdiction,” it said.
China’s strong reaction came after the tribunal struck a blow to its claims over almost all of the SCS, saying that its much touted nine-dash line has has no legal basis.
Striking down the core of China’s claims over the 90 per cent SCS based on historic rights, the tribunal ruled there was no legal basis for China to claim “historic rights” to resources within the SCS falling within its claimed nine-dash line, which is based on a Chinese map dating back to 1940s.
It concluded that “to the extent China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the SCS, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the Convention” (UN Convention on the Law of Seas.
“The tribunal also noted that, although Chinese navigators and fishermen, as well as those of other States, had historically made use of the islands in the SCS, there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources,” it said.
For decades China, which boycotted the tribunal questioning its legality, has been asserting that its emperors have discovered the islands hundreds years ago and have been exercising control over the area throughout the history.
But its claims came into conflict with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan as they hardly have exclusive economic zones (EEZ) provided by UNCLOS which Beijing declined to recognise.
Hours before the tribunal delivered its verdict, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China will not even officially receive the judgment of the tribunal as it has no legal basis.
“It is true that we do not recognise and accept the so-called arbitration. We will have no legal connection with the arbitral tribunal and we will not accept what ever materials it provides”, he told a media briefing replying to questions whether China will receive a copy of the verdict of the tribunal.
“We will not have any legal connection with the arbitral tribunal because from the very beginning we have not recognised this illegal organ,” he said.
A second statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry after the verdict was released countered tribunal’s findings that China’s claims over islands and the reefs in the SCS.
“China’s Nanhai Zhudao (the South China Sea Islands) consist of Dongsha Qundao (the Dongsha Islands), Xisha Qundao (the Xisha Islands), Zhongsha Qundao (the Zhongsha Islands) and Nansha Qundao (the Nansha Islands)”, it said.
China has renamed the islands which were known in the area with different names like Spratly islands. The statement claimed that “the activities of the Chinese people in the SCS date back to over 2,000 years ago.
China is the first to have discovered, named, and explored and exploited Nanhai Zhudao and relevant waters, and the first to have exercised sovereignty and jurisdiction over them continuously, peacefully and effectively, thus establishing territorial sovereignty and relevant rights and interests in the SCS”, it said.
Following the end of the World War II, China recovered and resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Nanhai Zhudao which had been illegally occupied by Japan during its war of aggression against China, it said.
To strengthen the administration over Nanhai Zhudao, the Chinese government in 1947 reviewed and updated the geographical names of Nanhai Zhudao, compiled Nan Hai Zhu Dao Di Li Zhi Lue and drew Nan Hai Zhu Dao Wei Zhi Tu (Location Map of the South China Sea Islands) on which the dotted line is marked.
This map was officially published and made known to the world by the Chinese government in February 1948”, it said in apparent reference to the nine-dash line.
China is so vocal in enforcing the nine-dash line that it publishes it in all the passports of Chinese to assert its claims.
The statement said China has been firm in upholding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the SCS and cited various documents released to assert its claims over EEZ and the continental shelf.
The ratification of UNCLOS have further reaffirmed China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in SCS, it said.
To a question whether China will hold talks with the Philippines after the award, he said, “China and the Philippines have good relations over the long period of time.
On China’s part, we are willing to maintain peaceful, mutually beneficial relationship with all our neighbouring countries including the Philippines”, he said.
“We have noted that the new Philippines government has expressed its willingness to hold dialogue with China in a bid to promote common development and properly manage dispute between the two sides. Our door to that is widely opened”, he said. He also lashed out at US for stirring trouble in the SCS region with its Asia Pacific re-balance strategy.
”Before the implementation of the so called re-balance to Asia Pacific by the US, the SCS is very tranquil and peaceful. Then comes the Americans and their policy of rebalance to Asia and since then things have changed”, he said.
Before the rebalance was implemented there were disputes between the relevant parties int he SCS but they could properly managed and maintained peaceful situation, he said.
“No matter how the US argues, they can not deny that things changed after the implementation of the Asia rebalance policy”, he said.
”The US poses itself as guardian of the maritime rule of law but refuses to approve the UN Convention on Law of Seas, (UNCLOS) 34 years after it was reached.
“It asks the other parties to accept the third party approach for dispute settlement but even refuses to accept the order and judgment by the supreme judicial organ of the UN which is international court of justice”, he said.
“Its action severely erodes the authority, sanctity and effectiveness of the international law. It is very dangerous and the international community should be on high alert against that”, Lu said.
Asked about the report that China may pull out of the UNCLOS as the tribunal was constituted based on it, Lu said, “I do not know where did you see that”.
“Ever since China approved UNCLOS in 1976, we have been loyal party to UNCLOS and we uphold it with faithful observance.
“We have to say that we should maintain the authority of the UNCLOS no matter what instead of making selective use of it based on the likes and dislikes and or even violate the clause of the UNCLOS”, the spokesman added.