MANILA, Philippines (AP) — China is standing pat on its decision to reject arbitration by an international tribunal that will begin formal hearings this week to resolve a long-seething feud between Beijing and Manila over the South China Sea, the Chinese ambassador to Manila said Monday.
The five-member tribunal starts hearings in The Hague on Tuesday to address China’s contention that the arbitration body does not have authority to assume jurisdiction over Manila’s complaint against Beijing.
A high-level delegation that includes the Philippines’ solicitor-general and the heads of the foreign, defense and justice departments, along with Washington-based lawyers hired by Manila, has flown to The Hague to argue the Philippines’ case.
The dayslong hearings are crucial because the Philippines’ complaint against China could no longer be heard if the tribunal declares it has no jurisdiction over the case.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has said that the Philippines would accept any ruling, “win or lose.”
Although Beijing would likely ignore any decision, especially an adversarial one, Philippine officials said they hope China would eventually honor any ruling to show that it’s a global leader that adheres to the rule of law.
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua told reporters in Manila that his government would stick to its decision not to participate in the arbitration and instead renewed China’s offer to resolve the conflict through one-on-one negotiations with the Philippines.
“Our position is consistent. We’ll not accept nor participate in the arbitration,” Zhao said. “Our door for bilateral consultation and negotiation is still open and will be open forever.”
Responding to a question from a reporter, Zhao reiterated that China would never start a war with the Philippines over the long-contested territories. “I cannot imagine that China would wage a war against the Philippines over what is happening in the South China Sea. It is not China’s policy and will not be China’s policy,” he said.
The Philippines brought its disagreements with China to international arbitration in January 2013, a year after Chinese coast guard ships took effective control of the disputed Scarborough Shoal following a tense standoff with Filipino ships. Manila’s bold move has angered Beijing and strained relations
Chinese coast guard ships have since been driving away Filipino and other fishermen from the shoal, at times using water cannons in actions that the Philippine government has condemned and protested, Filipino officials said.
In its complaint, the Philippines asked the tribunal to declare China’s so-called “nine-dash line” territorial claim over much of the South China Sea invalid under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The Philippine government has also asked the tribunal to declare the extent of territorial waters that can be accorded to at least eight islands, reefs and atolls under Chinese control in the disputed territory in a bid to limit Beijing’s reach in scattered areas of it.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have territorial claims in the busy waters, which are among the world’s busiest. Tensions flared in recent months after the Philippines and other claimant countries discovered that China had undertaken massive island-building in seven reefs and atolls in a disputed region called the Spratlys.
Washington and several other governments have expressed alarm and asked Beijing to stop the massive off-shore construction. But China has argued that it has a right to undertake any activity in territories it says it has owned since ancient times, adding that the artificial islands would benefit fishermen and would also be used for China’s defense.
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