Hague Tribunal Demands Evidence of China’s Sea Claims

A Chinese Coast Guard ship (R) uses a water cannon to attack a Vietnamese Fisheries Surveillance boat near the site of a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea, June 2, 2014.

An international tribunal has asked China to submit evidence defending its territorial claims in the South China Sea within six months, but Beijing shrugged off the request Wednesday, saying it does not recognize the case brought by rival claimant the Philippines.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), the Hague-based inter-governmental body which hears international disputes, issued a statement Tuesday saying it has given China until Dec. 15 to submit its arguments against a complaint by the Philippines, which questioned the legality of China’s so-called “nine-dash line,” encompassing virtually the entire South China Sea.

The Philippines had on March 30 filed a 4,000-page memorial with the PCA detailing its case and seeking to clarify territorial rights in the South China Sea, arguing that Beijing’s claim to most of the South China Sea has no legal basis.

“[T]he Arbitral Tribunal fixes 15 December 2014 as the date for China to submit its Counter-Memorial responding to the Philippines’ Memorial,” the PCA statement said.

Further proceedings, including the need for any further written submissions or hearings, will be determined after “seeking the views” of the involved parties, it said.

“The Arbitral Tribunal has been mindful of its obligation … to determine its own procedure while ‘assuring to each party a full opportunity to be heard and to present its case’.”

Beijing said Wednesday that it had “noted the relevant report,” but said it had no plans to respond.

“China does not accept nor participate in the arbitration case filed by the Philippines,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said during a press briefing.

“This position remains unchanged.”

Rival claims

China rejects rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Vietnam also is gathering evidence for a legal suit challenging China’s claim to waters off the Vietnamese coast and is considering the best time to file it, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told Bloomberg news in an interview last week.

“We are prepared and ready for legal action,” Dung said. “We are considering the most appropriate timing to take this measure.”

The Southeast Asian states have been pushing Beijing to agree to a code of conduct for about a decade to avoid conflicts in the South China Sea.

On May 21, the PCA received a “Note Verbale” from China in which it reiterated its position that “it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the Philippines” and that the Note Verbale “shall not be regarded as China’s acceptance of or participation in the proceedings.”

On Wednesday, Manila pressed for China to join the arbitration process.

“Arbitration is a peaceful, open and friendly resolution mechanism that offers a durable solution to the disputes,” Agence France-Presse quoted Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose telling reporters in Manila.

Ongoing tensions

China’s claims have led to tensions in the South China Sea, most recently with Vietnam after Beijing deployed a giant oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam’s coast in what Hanoi considers its exclusive economic zone.

Scores of ships from both sides have been involved in a standoff over the rig, with reports of the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel last week.

Frustration over China’s deployment of the oil rig led to demonstrations by thousands of Vietnamese last month, which Hanoi initially allowed in a rare move widely seen as a way to amplify state anger against Beijing.

However, the government backpedaled after protests turned bloody, with riots targeting Chinese business interests. Beijing says four Chinese citizens were killed in the unrest.

By Joshua Lipes (RFA)

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