AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, An international tribunal in the Hague on Tuesday ruled overwhelmingly in favor of the Philippines, saying China has no right to territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The court concluded China has no legal basis to claim rights to large swaths of international waters in the region falling within the so-called “nine-dash line,” the line claimed by China as its territorial sea boundary.
The Philippines government “strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing disputes in the South China Sea,” it said in a statement.
The Chinese government declared the ruling “ill-founded” and said it will ignore it.
“The award is invalid and has no binding force,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “China does not accept or recognize it.”
The ruling is legally binding, but the court has no way to enforce it. China called the case a “farce” and refused to participate in the court hearings.
Several nations have argued over Bejing’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea – an area roughly the size of Mexico, including areas claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. The Philippines government decided in 2013 to make its case before the Hague.
Once the case was filed, China began aggressively piling sand onto reefs, constructing new islands with military landing strips and naval docking facilities, including one the court said is clearly in water controlled by the Philippines.
At issue in the dispute is control of vital shipping lanes, fishing and oil exploration rights.
China’s ruling Communist Party is also making a statement with the expansion moves, touting the country’s return to ancient glory. Some analysts see China losing face with the court’s ruling, which could mean they will have an aggressive response.
The United States has become involved in the dispute, sending warships to patrol areas claimed by China but that the U.S. asserts are international waters. Warships and planes from both countries have had some close encounters in recent months.
China has repeatedly vowed to not back down from its claims.
Despite the posturing, Secretary of State John Kerry has said the U.S. will pursue a diplomatic solution.