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Beijing South China Sea claims rejected by court - BBC News

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly IslandsImage copyright Reuters Image caption China has accelerated construction on some disputed reefs An international tribunal has ruled against Chinese claims to rights in the South China Sea, backing a case brought by the Philippines.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration said there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources.

China called the ruling "ill-founded" and says it will not be bound by it.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including reefs and islands also claimed by others.

The tribunal in The Hague said China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights. It also said China had caused "severe harm to the coral reef environment" by building artificial islands.

The ruling came from an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both countries have signed.

The ruling is binding but the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no powers of enforcement.

The US sent an aircraft carrier and fighter jets to the region ahead of the ruling. Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy has been carrying out exercises near the disputed Paracel islands.

Philippe Sands, a lawyer for the Philippines in the case, said it was a "clear and unanimous judgement that upholds the rule of law and the rights claimed by the Philippines".

He called it a "definitive ruling on which all states can place reliance".

However, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua said that "as the panel has no jurisdiction, its decision is naturally null and void".

The tribunal was ruling on seven of 15 points brought by the Philippines. Among the key findings were:

Fishermen from the Philippines and China both had fishing rights around the disputed Scarborough Shoal area, and China had interfered by restricting accessChina had "destroyed evidence of the natural condition of features in the South China Sea" that formed part of the dispute Transient use of features above water did not constitute inhabitation - one of the key conditions for claiming land rights of 200 nautical miles, rather than the 12 miles granted for rocks visible at high tide.

The BBC's Robin Brant, in Shanghai, says this is the worst outcome for China and its action in the seas hundreds of miles away will be the crucial next step.

In a statement, the Chinese foreign ministry said China was the first to have discovered and exploited the South China Sea islands and relevant waters, "thus establishing territorial sovereignty and relevant rights and interests".

Muted reaction in the Philippines - Jonah Fisher, BBC News, Manila

The press room was packed but the statement from Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay lasted just two minutes.

In four short paragraphs, he explained that experts were now analysing the ruling and called on all concerned to exercise "constraint and sobriety" at what he described as a "milestone decision".

There were no celebrations, hardly even a smile. And there's a reason for that.

This is not the same government that first brought this case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration three and a half years ago, in the aftermath of a standoff at Scarborough Shoal.

Two weeks ago, Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as Philippine president. All the indications are that he is more willing to seek accommodation with the Chinese than his predecessor, Benigno Aquino.

Here in Manila, many believe that the new president may have sought promises of Chinese investment, in return for a quiet, dignified response.

13:31:24 . 12 Jul 2016
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