The Philippines earned a huge victory Thursday in its case against China’s claims to parts of the South China Sea, after an arbitration court in the Netherlands with jurisdiction on the matter agreed to hold hearings.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued the ruling after the Philippines had filed the suit against China in 2013.
“Our people can be assured that those representing our country have been continuously preparing for this,” said Abigail Valte, a spokeswoman for President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines.
Jay Batongbacal, the director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines, told the New York Times that the ruling could support diplomatic relations with other nations opposing China’s claim to the South China Sea.
“The ruling could act to embolden and bring unity to the other claimants,” Batongbacal said.
China has boycotted the Philippines’ suit since 2013 and it has been developing a case for its territorial claims in the South China Sea based on history rather than law.
The court in The Hague rejects that claim.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea.
China’s Foreign Ministry announced it would not accept any ruling from the court and called the Philippines’ move “a political provocation under the cloak of law.”
Paul Reichler, an American lawyer representing the Philippines’, argues that the Philippines has the right to exploit oil and gas in waters within a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone extending from territory that it claims in the South China Sea.
China makes the same call.
The Hague court said Thursday it has the authority to hear the Philippines’ submissions based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
This week, a U.S. Navy Destroyer navigated around one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea to prove China had no legal right to a 12-mile territorial zone around it. Under the Law of the Sea, bits of rock or reef that are elevated only at low tide are not entitled to such a zone.
China has been building up its island on the Subi Reef near the Philippines and a military airstrip is under construction there.
The Philippines argues that China has prevented Philippine vessels from exploiting the waters adjacent to Scarborough Shoal and Johnson Reef, two small, rocky outcrops in the South China Sea favored by fishermen. In 2012, China built a barrier around the entrance to the Scarborough Shoal. A U.S.-brokered deal for both countries to exit the shoal quickly collapsed.
Zhu Feng, the executive director of the China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea at Nanjing University, said the ruling was not a defeat for China, but expressed hope the country would become more involved in court proceedings.
“The international jurisdiction will always move in its own way,” Feng told the Times. “I hope Beijing could become more active in participating in all forums and respond to the international ruling at the tribunal.”.