Key findings of UN tribunal ruling on South China Sea

Filipino activists and Vietnamese nationals release balloons and wave Philippine flags at a demonstration in Manila, on July 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP, REUTERS) - A United Nations-backed tribunal on Tuesday (July 12) issued a damning ruling against China on its long-running dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Here are some of the key findings in the 497-page document:

No legal basis for China to claim historic right to areas within nine-dash-line

China says that its fishermen have visited the area for centuries, but the PCA tribunal said that under the UN Convention on the Law of the
Sea (UNCLOS), Beijing had not had exclusive control of it.

"There was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources, " the five-member panel found .

Any historic rights were "extinguished" when it signed up to UNCLOS, it said, and there was "no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line'," it said.

None of China's reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone

The artificial islands that China has been furiously building over recent years are not capable of sustaining a population and therefore under international treaties do not have the 200 nautical mile "exclusive economic zone" (EEZ) enjoyed by inhabited land.

"The Tribunal noted that the current presence of official personnel on many of the features is dependent on outside support and not reflective of the capacity of the features... (and) ....that none of the Spratly Islands is capable of generating extended maritime zones.

"The Tribunal found that it could - without delimiting a boundary - declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China."

Because areas at issue are within the Philippines EEZ, Chinese construction of artificial islands and its interference with Philippine fishing and mineral activities is illegal.

China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in its EEZ

"China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone," the tribunal said. It further held that "Chinese law-enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels."

It said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank.

China had caused permanent harm to the coral reef ecosystem in the Spratlys

China's large-scale land reclamation has "caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems".

China was also remiss in failing to put a stop to the harmful "harvesting of endangered sea turtles, coral and giant clams on a substantial scale" by its fishermen.

China had no jurisdiction over the military standoff at Second Thomas Shoal, where Chinese and Philippine military and law enforcement vessels are locked in confrontation.

However, "China's recent large-scale reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations on a state during dispute resolution proceedings, in so far as China has... destroyed evidence of the natural condition of features of the South China Sea that formed part of the Parties' dispute."

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