Beijing reacted furiously after an international tribunal ruling yesterday that rendered its claims in the South China Sea invalid.
China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the strategically vital waters, despite rival claims from its Southeast Asian neighbours, most notably the Philippines.
But yesterday a UN-backed tribunal in The Hague - the Permanent Court of Arbitration - ruled that China has no historic rights to the area.
Manila - which had lodged the suit against Beijing - welcomed the decision, as China, having boycotted the proceedings, said it “neither accepts nor recognises” the ruling.
“The award is null and void and has no binding force,” China’s foreign ministry said on its website, reiterating its territorial claims.
President Xi Jinping said that the islands had been Chinese territory since ancient times and Beijing would not accept any action based on the decision, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The Asian giant’s ambassador to the Netherlands Wu Ken was, meanwhile, quoted by Xinhua as saying “today is ‘black Tuesday for The Hague” and that “the ruling “dishonours international law”.
China’s claims, which include waters approaching neighbouring countries, are based on a vaguely defined “nine-dash-line” found on a 1940s Chinese map.
The row has embroiled the United States, which has deployed aircraft carriers and a host of other vessels to assert freedom of navigation in the waters - through which one-third of the global oil trade passes.
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 no exclusive control of it.
Any historic rights were “extinguished” when it signed up to Unclos, the tribunal 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.
Crucially, it ruled that none of the Spratlys, a chain of outcrops in the south of the sea, were “islands” under the meaning of Unclos, and thus whoever had sovereignty over them - an issue it did not address - was not entitled to 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of their own.
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