VN welcomes Hague ruling

July 12, 2016 - 19:00

Việt Nam yesterday welcomed the final ruling issued by an international tribunal in The Hague, which rejected China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (East Sea).

Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Spokeman Lê Hải Bình.—VNA/VNS Photo
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI – Việt Nam yesterday welcomed the final ruling issued by an international tribunal in The Hague, which rejected China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (East Sea).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ spokesperson, Lê Hải Bình, said in a statement that Việt Nam would issue a more detailed statement on the content of the ruling later.

"Việt Nam once again confirmed its consistent stance on this lawsuit, which was fully reflected in the Statement dated December 12, 2014 that Việt Nam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal," he said.

Bình also reiterated that "Việt Nam strongly supports the resolution of the disputes in the East Sea by peaceful means, including diplomatic and legal processes and refraining from the use or threats to use force, in accordance with international law."

"On this occasion, Việt Nam continues to assert its sovereignty over the two archipelagoes of Paracels (Hoàng Sa) and Spratly (Trường Sa) islands, over the internal waters and territorial waters," and its "sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the exclusive economic zone and Việt Nam’s continental shelf", as well as all the legal rights and interests of Việt Nam related to the geographical structures of the Paracels (Hoàng Sa) and Spratly (Trường Sa) islands.

The ruling

The arbitral tribunal under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) yesterday concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas enclosed by the “nine-dash” line.

There was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the South China Sea (East Sea) waters or their resources, said the five-member tribunal of maritime affairs experts at The Hague as they issued the ruling over the case filed by the Philippines to contest China’s claims and activity in the South China Sea.

"None of the Spratly Islands are capable of generating extended maritime zones," and that “none of the features claimed by China were capable of generating an exclusive economic zone,” the ruling said.

The tribunal also said that China had contravened international law when it “violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone” and by failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from harvesting endangered sea turtles and other species “on a substantial scale.”

In terms of effects on marine environment, the tribunal found that China had “caused severe harm to the coral reef environment”.

Finally, the tribunal found that China’s recent large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations of a State during dispute resolution proceedings.

In 2013, the Philippines brought the case to the UNCLOS tribunal, asking the tribunal to reject China’s claims to sovereignty over as much as 90 per cent of the South China Sea, marked by a "nine-dash line" on official Chinese maps. It also accused China of interfering with fishing, dredging sand to build artificial islands, and endangering ships, among other claims.

China has boycotted the tribunal from the very beginning, saying that the panel has no jurisdiction. It has already said it will not "accept, recognise or execute" the decision.

Legally, the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision will be binding. However, there is no ability to enforce the ruling.

The United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, originally agreed to in 1982, was designed to allow countries to clearly define areas of control off their coastline.

An island controlled by a country is entitled to "territorial waters" of 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) as well as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) -- whose resources, such as fish -- the country can exploit, of up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres).

A rock owned by a state will also generate a 12 nautical mile territorial border but not an economic zone under UNCLOS, while a low-tide elevation grants no territorial benefits at all.

Both China and the Philippines are signatories to the UNCLOS, as is Việt Nam.

Parties’ reactions

While China’s Foreign Ministry comprehensively rejected the ruling, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said his country’s experts would be studying the ruling with the care and attention-to-detail that this significant arbitral outcome deserves.

“We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety. The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea," he told a news conference after the publication of the tribunal’s ruling.--VNS