A UN-backed international court ruled on Tuesday that China never had historic rights over islands in the South China Sea (SCS) but Beijing said it would neither accept nor recognise the verdict.
The ruling by a tribunal formed by The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which backed claims made by the Philippines, is expected to stoke further tensions in Southeast Asia.
Besides the Philippines, China is locked in disputes in the South China Sea with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The tribunal said though China had historically made use of the islands in question, there was no evidence it exercised exclusive rights over them.
China’s foreign ministry declared the verdict “null and void” and said it had no binding force. “China neither accepts nor recognises it,” it said in a statement.
The unilateral initiation of arbitration by the Philippines was aimed at denying “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea”, the statement said. China also said it would not “accept any means of third party dispute settlement”.
Earlier, foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said China would not even “receive” a copy of the verdict because the foundation of the arbitration was “illegal”.
The tribunal noted that though Chinese navigators and fishermen had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was “no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources”.
The tribunal said China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by exploring for resources in the region. China had caused permanent and irreparable “harm to the coral reef environment” by building artificial islands, it added.
The tribunal further said China’s claims to historic rights under the “nine dash line” were contrary to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Beijing also had no entitlement to an economic zone within 200 miles of Mischief Reef or Thomas Shoal, it said.
The tribunal made it clear that it had jurisdiction to rule on China’s claim in the South China Sea.
The arbitration tribunal was formed under the UNCLOS. Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the convention.
The verdict is binding on UNCLOS members but the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no powers of enforcement.
A large number of police personnel were deployed around the Philippines embassy in Beijing’s Central Business District to prevent protesters from demonstrating in front of the compound. Police barricaded roads to leading to the mission and sealed off access.
China had mounted a massive campaign against the tribunal, deploying its diplomats around the world to drum up support. Beijing had said the tribunal had failed to clarify or identify the disputes between China and the Philippines in its ruling on jurisdiction.
“The arbitration process was carried out at a stunning speed, the ruling on the jurisdiction failed to give full consideration of China’s claims although it ostensibly noticed them, the arbitration tribunal failed to complete the necessary legal analyses and it did not respect the principle of legal consistency in that some arbitrators altered positions without giving explanation,” state media reported.
In a related development, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported a Chinese civilian aircraft successfully carried out calibration tests on two new airports in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday.
It said the airports, on Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, will help with personnel transfers to the Spratlys.
The announcement came as the tribunal in The Hague said none of the Spratly Islands granted China an exclusive economic zone.