, THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Oct 30 – An international tribunal ruled Thursday it had the power to hear a case brought by the Philippines over disputed islands in the South China Sea, in a move likely to trigger fury in Beijing.
Manila has insisted the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the Philippines and China have both ratified, should be used to resolve the bitter territorial row over isolated reefs and islets, which has triggered growing international alarm.
But China has refused to participate in the proceedings, arguing the Permanent Court of Arbitration – which is more than a century old and based in The Hague – had no jurisdiction over the case.
“Reviewing the claims submitted by the Philippines, the tribunal has rejected the argument” by China that the “dispute is actually about sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and therefore beyond the tribunal’s jurisdiction,” the court said in a statement.
Instead, the court ruled the case reflects “disputes between the two states concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention” – something which falls within its remit.
China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about a third of all the world’s traded oil passes.
The disputed waters – claimed in part by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei – have also become the stage for a tussle for regional dominance between Beijing and Washington, the world’s two largest economic and military powers.
Following a stand-off between Chinese ships and the weak Filipino Navy in 2012, China took control of a rich fishing ground called Scarborough Shoal that is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
China has also undertaken giant reclamation activities, raising fears it will use artificial islands to build new military outposts close to the Philippines and other claimants.