A tribunal at the Hague was established at the request of the Philippines to can take on the case af the South China Sea dispute. However, it appears that the People’s Republic of China is in no mood to agree with the tribunal’s hearing, with the Foreign Ministry stating on Friday that the Arbitral Tribunal’s ruling on South China Sea has no binding impact on China and calling the ruling null and void.

China vs. U.S. South China Sea
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said Friday in a media briefing that the ruling will have no effect whatsoever on China’s sovereignty and the rights it will continue exercising in the South China Sea. According to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, China’s sovereignty and rights in the South China Sea are grounded in history and protected under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Aware of the Philippines recent moves on the international scene, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also criticized the decision to seek arbitration and called it “a political provocation under the cloak of law.”

China resolute on South China Sea stance

Liu says that the Philippines did not go to the Hague to settle the dispute; it went there to negate and undermine China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights in a bid to pursue its own agenda in the South China Sea. Moreover, Liu reiterated China’s position of non-acceptance and non-participation. Liu went on to criticize the Philippines for failing to stick to its own commitment to settle disputes through dialogue and negotiations and reminded it of its responsibilities.

Since the 1990s, both China and the Philippines have gone back and forth over these disputes, agreeing and reaffirming that these issues would be resolved through dialogue but going back to square one every now and then.

“We will continue to approach disputes in this way, including with the Philippines, and to jointly safeguard the peace and stability of the South China Sea.” Liu said.

Although it was a legal defeat for Beijing when the Hague-based tribunal rejected China’s claim that the disputes are about its territorial sovereignty, it should be noted that the Chinese navy is already prepared to take any action necessary in order to protect a region it feels it is entitled to. China’s naval commander met with his U.S. counterpart a few days ago, and he explicitly told him that a minor incident could spark war if the United States continues its acts of provocation in the South China Sea. According to a Chinese naval statement, Admiral Wu Shengli made these comments to Admiral John Richardson during a video teleconference.

“If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war,” the statement paraphrased Wu as saying.

However, Wu has also expressed his hope that his American counterparts acknowledge the respect the two sides’ navy forces share for each other and avoid any confrontation in the near future. Meanwhile in the Hague, China has chosen to boycott proceedings and reject the court’s authority and will continue to do so if any of the claimants do not reach out to it through a proper channel.

South China Sea ruling – a huge blow for China?

However, the U.S. welcomed the ruling made in the Hague, with one official stating that the decision showcases the relevance of international law to the territorial conflicts in South China Sea. The official added: “It demonstrates that sovereign claims are not necessarily indisputable and it shows that judging issues like this on the basis of international law and international practice are a viable way of, at a minimum, managing territorial conflicts if not resolving them.”

John McCain, Chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee hailed the recently made ruling, stating that it was an important step towards upholding international law in view of questionable Chinese claims in the disputed waters. Bonnie Glaser, an expert on the South China Sea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says that the Hague outcome is a big blow for China.