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Court to hear Philippines’ South China Sea case

30 Oct 2015 08:01 GMT
Court to hear Philippines' South China Sea case

Singapore, 30 October (Argus) — The Philippines has won a small victory in its legal challenge to Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, the Netherlands ruled it has jurisdiction over the case.

Manila appealed to the court for arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) in January 2013 as part of a long-running dispute with Beijing over control of the Spratly islands in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea.

The Philippines has asked the court to rule that Beijing's claims are incompatible with Unclos and that its actions in the Spratlys are unlawful. China says the dispute is about sovereignty over the islands, and so should fall outside the PCA's remit. But the court yesterday rejected Beijing's argument and said the hearings could proceed. It expects to rule on the merits of the case next year. Beijing said last year it would not participate in the proceedings.

The PCA ruling is the second challenge to China's territorial claims in the Spratly islands this week, after the US sent a navy vessel close to a Chinese-controlled reef. The USS Lassen passed within 12 nautical miles (22km) of Subi reef on 27 October, challenging China's claim that the reef is entitled to a territorial zone. This is the first time the US has directly challenged China's claims to the control of disputed islands in the South China Sea since Beijing began large-scale land reclamation and island building activities in 2013.

The South China Sea may hold proven and probable reserves of around 11bn bl of oil and 190 trillion ft³ (5.4 trillion m³) of natural gas, the US EIA estimates. But a lack of exploration and territorial disputes makes it hard to judge reserves. Most of China's seaborne oil and gas imports pass through the waterway.