Philippines to present case against China's claim over South China Sea at UN court

Filipinos display placards in protest over territorial disputes in the South China Sea during National Independence Day celebrations, in front of the Chinese consular office in Makati city, south of Manila, the Philippines, on June 12. -- PHOTO: EPA&
Filipinos display placards in protest over territorial disputes in the South China Sea during National Independence Day celebrations, in front of the Chinese consular office in Makati city, south of Manila, the Philippines, on June 12. -- PHOTO: EPA 

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines will argue its case against China's claim over most of the disputed South China Sea at The Hague next month, the foreign department said on Monday.

The Netherlands-based United Nations court is scheduled to conduct a hearing from July 7 on a case lodged by the Philippines in 2013 that China has spurned, foreign department spokesman Charles Jose said.

"Right now we are preparing for the oral arguments in The Hague on July 7 to 13. Our team from Manila and from the United States will be flying there," Mr Jose told reporters in the Philippine capital. Philippine officials and diplomats, assisted by US lawyers, will represent the country in the proceedings, Mr Jose said.

The Philippines asked the UN tribunal in January 2013 to declare China's claim invalid and against international law. The Philippines says next month's hearings will be crucial to the five-member tribunal's decision on whether Manila's complaint has legal merit as well as whether the court has jurisdiction over the case.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, even areas close to the coasts of its neighbours. Its claim is disputed by the Philippines as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. The waters are a crucial sea lane and rich fishing ground also believed to hold large mineral resources.

Manila says some of the areas claimed by its powerful Asian neighbour encroach on the former's exclusive economic zone as defined by a 1982 UN convention on the law of the sea, which both countries have ratified.

Recently, the Philippines has accused China of taking more aggressive measures to press its claim.

These include reclaiming land to turn previously submerged islets into artificial islands capable of hosting military installations.

This has alarmed foreign governments including the United States and Japan, raising fears it could eventually impede freedom of navigation and commerce.