China's illegal construction activities in Subi reef of  Vietnam's Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago (Photo: SIA)
Hanoi (VNA) – The final ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, the Netherlands on July 12 on the Philippines’s lawsuit against China’s claims in the East Sea is considered an important milestone in efforts to settle disputes in the waters through peaceful measures in line with international law.

After three years of careful consideration, the tribunal, constituted under Annex VII to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS), rejected China’s groundless claim of “historic rights” over waters within the “nine-dash line.”

Under the PCA’s judgment, China has no “historic title” over waters in the East Sea. It concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the “nine-dash line”.

The PCA’s ruling also confirmed that none of the features claimed by China in Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelago was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In fact, China’s unilateral claim of its “nine-dash line” over many years, as well as its non-stop actions to realise the claim have faced strong objection from the international community. Many countries have provided historical and legal evidence contesting China’s groundless claim. Therefore, the PCA’s ruling serves a legal foundation to confirm that China’s “nine-dash line” is totally baseless.

It found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its EEZ by interfering with Philippine traditional fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.

The tribunal further held that Chinese law enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels.

Regarding China’s recent large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands at seven features in the Spratly Islands, the court found that China had caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems and the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species.

Beijing’s land reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations on a State during dispute resolution proceedings, the tribunal stated.

As a member of the UNCLOS, China has gone against the convention’s rules, showing the world that Beijing is not a responsible member as it has ignored international law.

Clearly, the PCA’s ruling on the basis of the UNCLOS has affirmed the role of international law in dealing with disputes through peaceful measures, thus contributing to avoiding the use of armed forces.

In addition to that, the first judgment regarding the East Sea disputes has also paved the way for the resolution of disputes in the sea in line with international law, especially the UNCLOS. Therefore, right after the ruling was issued, many countries and international organisations have acknowledged that it is legally binding and motivates the settlement of pressing issues in the East Sea through peaceful measures, and called on parties involved to respect and talk about the implementation of the ruling.

UNCLOS has so far been recognised by the international community as a significant step forwards in the setting up of an order at sea, therefore, all members of the convention are obliged to fully abide by and implement all regulations and procedures stated in the convention, including those relating to the settlement of related disputes.

Unfortunately, in its first reaction to the PCA’s ruling, China showed an ill attitude when announced that it will “neither accept nor acknowledge” the tribunal’s ruling, stating that the ruling is “groundless, valueless and unbinding.”

The statements, together with the unilateral, perverse actions taken by China in the East Sea, have made its image ugly in the world arena, as China, as a world giant in many fields and a member of the UN Security Council, should show its responsibility in protecting and maintaining a peaceful and stable environment in the region and the world at large.

The East Sea provides one of the most important maritime lanes in the globe and benefits many countries. Therefore, maintaining peace, stability, navigation and over flight security, safety, and freedom in the sea area is the top priority. The parties concerned should display their responsibility in abiding by international law, specifically upholding the supremacy of the rule of law in the East Sea. Every extreme reaction or activities defying international law will fuel tensions and complicate the situation.-VNA