China reiterates stand on Manila case over South China Sea

China appears to be continuing with its land reclamation works in the disputed Spratly Islands as seen in this file photo. The July 12 ruling will bring to a close Manila's 2013 case that challenges China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea
China appears to be continuing with its land reclamation works in the disputed Spratly Islands as seen in this file photo. The July 12 ruling will bring to a close Manila's 2013 case that challenges China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea. PHOTO: REUTERS

Beijing again says it rejects international arbitration of claims over South China Sea

China has once again made it clear that it would reject international arbitration for a case brought by the Philippines to contest Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Beijing contends that the court has no jurisdiction to make the "so-called final award" on the case.

Chinese media commentaries, in the meantime, have urged newly installed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to show he is "genuine" about improving ties by pursuing bilateral talks on the South China Sea.

The upcoming ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is to be announced on July 12, and will bring to a close Manila's 2013 case that challenges China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea. Beijing refused to take part in the proceedings and slammed Manila for unilaterally initiating proceedings, while criticising the court for choosing to hear the case.

After the announcement of the date of the ruling on Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in a statement, said: "I stress once again that the tribunal has no jurisdiction over the case and the relevant subject matter, and that it should not have heard the case or rendered the award. With regard to territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China does not accept any means of third-party dispute settlement, or any solution imposed on China."

DEPENDS ON RULING

If the ruling is highly unfavourable to China, and the Philippines and other countries demand that China strictly abides by it, Beijing may lash out, resulting in a sharp uptick in tensions.

ISEAS-YUSOF ISHAK INSTITUTE SENIOR FELLOW IAN STOREY

With less than two weeks to go, how an indignant China might respond to a likely unfavourable ruling has been a topic of intense speculation.

Analysts told The Straits Times that China's reaction will depend on the verdict, as well as the Philippines' reaction.

While Mr Duterte may be taking a softer stance on the South China Sea issue compared with his predecessor, Mr Benigno Aquino, it is unclear how he will follow up on the tribunal's ruling, said Dr Zhu Feng, executive director at Nanjing University's China Centre for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea.

"So, what China will watch out for most are the details of the arbitration ruling," he said.

Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Ian Storey said: "If the ruling is highly unfavourable to China, and the Philippines and other countries demand that China strictly abides by it, Beijing may lash out, resulting in a sharp uptick in tensions."

 
 

Some experts have suggested that China could declare an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea, or start reclamation work on Scarborough Shoal.

"But it's also possible that the final ruling will include some face-saving provisions for China, such as not issuing an opinion on the nine-dash line," said Dr Storey.

At his first Cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr Duterte said any tribunal decision favouring Manila should not be used to "taunt or flaunt".

"We have to make up our minds, but we can also prepare our people on where we go," he said, referring to the July 12 ruling.

"It's a cliffhanger... If we decide right, we may find alleviation of some of the problems. We will study progressively how we can use (the ruling). Of course, it would be a moral victory, but we can't put a country in an awkward position."

His comments come as commentaries published in China's state media urged Mr Duterte to make good on his earlier suggestion to pursue bilateral talks on the South China Sea.

"With China having rightly kept the door of dialogue open, the ball is in Manila's court," said a Xinhua commentary. "If Duterte's words about putting China-Philippines ties back on the right track are genuine, it is time for him to act."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'China reiterates stand on Manila case'. Print Edition | Subscribe