China rejects ruling, deems it null and void

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) speaks during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) speaks during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China. PHOTO: EPA

President Xi says S. China Sea and isles have been Chinese territory since ancient times

China has summarily rejected the ruling by an arbitration tribunal against its South China Sea territorial claims, with the government calling it "null and void" and President Xi Jinping stating that Beijing would not accept any calls or actions arising from the outcome.

Speaking to European Union leaders at a China-EU summit here yesterday, Mr Xi said the South China Sea and its isles have been Chinese territory since ancient times.

"Our national sovereignty and our maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea will not be affected in any way by the ruling and case brought about by the Philippines," he was quoted as saying in media reports published after the ruling.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the case "a political farce" and said it "has put the dispute into dangerous territory of worsening tensions and confrontation".

In a show of solidarity, more than 20,000 people signed an open letter, drafted by a group of young Chinese scholars, to criticise the tribunal for ruling on a case which, they say, it has no jurisdiction over.

The Foreign Ministry issued two statements, with one laying out reasons why the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case and the other maintaining China's claims over the disputed waters and isles.

It reiterated that the tribunal has no jurisdiction over a case involving matters of territorial sovereignty and maritime delimitation, and that the Philippines had disregarded pacts with China to resolve the dispute through bilateral talks.

The second statement said China's sovereignty and maritime rights and interests are "based on the practice of the Chinese people and the Chinese government in the long course of history and the position consistently upheld by successive Chinese governments".

They are also "in accordance with national law and international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea", it added.

The ministry also spelt out specifically China's sovereignty over four island chains in the South China Sea, including the Xisha and Nansha islands, also known as the Paracels and Spratlys respectively.

The statement runs against the ruling by the tribunal, which concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources in the sea falling within the "nine-dash line".

The tribunal also held that none of the Spratly islands is capable of generating extended maritime zones and that the Spratlys cannot generate maritime zones collectively as a unit.

Chinese state media dismissed the ruling.

"Be it in the past or in the future, any attempts to challenge China's bottom line would be akin to smashing one's feet with a rock. The Chinese people's determination in protecting the country's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests is unwavering," said the People's Daily.

Tough rhetoric aside, China did not take any action predicted by observers in the event of an unfavourable outcome.

Analysts say China could be adopting a wait-and-see approach.

Sino-Asean expert Xu Liping said Beijing might want to see if Manila would agree to holding bilateral talks and also if other claimant states would want to take their case to a tribunal.

"Also, China may be thinking it would be hard for the ruling to be implemented to have any real impact on its claims," he told The Straits Times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'China rejects ruling, deems it null and void'. Print Edition | Subscribe