Tribunal overwhelmingly rejects Beijings South China Sea claims

Activists who traveled to disputed Scarborough Shoal and were blocked by theChinese coastguard a few months ago celebrate July 12at a restaurant in Manila

AMSTERDAM/BEIJING — An arbitration court ruled Tuesday that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and has breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights, infuriating Beijing which dismissed the case as a farce.A defiant China, which boycotted the hearings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, vowed to ignore the ruling and said its armed forces would defend its sovereignty. China claims almost 90 percent of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. The ruling is significant as it is the first time that a legal challenge has been brought in the dispute. It reflects the shifting balance of power in the 1.35 million square mile sea, where China has been expanding its presence by building artificial islands and dispatching patrol boats that keep Filipino fishing vessels away.The court said China had interfered with traditional Filipino fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank. None of China’s reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, it added.China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said shortly before the ruling was announced that a Chinese civilian aircraft had successfully tested two new airports in the disputed Spratly Islands.China’s Defence Ministry said a new guided missile destroyer was formally commissioned at a naval base on the southern island province of Hainan, which has responsibility for the South China Sea. “China will respond with fury, certainly in terms of rhetoric and possibly through more aggressive actions at sea.”The United States, which China has accused of fueling tensions and militarizing the regions, urged parties to comply with the legally binding ruling and avoid provocations.”The decision today by the Tribunal in the Philippines-China arbitration is an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.In a statement shortly before the ruling, China’s Defence Ministry said its armed forces would “firmly safeguard national sovereignty, security and maritime interests and rights, firmly uphold regional peace and stability, and deal with all kinds of threats and challenges”The judges acknowledged China’s refusal to participate, but said they sought to take account of China’s position from its statements and diplomatic correspondence.”Domestically, Beijing has painted itself into a corner and may find itself compelled to act in a potentially reckless fashion, if only to demonstrate to its domestic audience that it is not … an ’empty cannon’ in the eyes of its own citizens,” said Andrew Mertha, a China specialist at Cornell UniversitySpreading fast on social media in the Philippines was the use of the term “Chexit” — the public’s desire for Chinese vessels to leave the waters.