The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is to rule in a dispute between the Philippines and China over maritime claims in the South China Sea – particularly who has the right to exploit resources in the strategic territory.
The ruling on Tuesday is expected to further increase tensions in the region, where China’s increased military assertiveness has spread concern among its smaller neighbours and is a point of confrontation with the United States.
China has boycotted the court, saying it does not have jurisdiction to decide on the matter and has campaigned for months to discredit the outcome.
One Minute: South China Sea
In advance of the ruling, the China Daily newspaper, which is published by the government, topped its front page on Tuesday with a picture of Woody Island in the South China Sea emblazoned with the words: “Arbitration invalid”.
State-run news agency Xinhua included headlines such as: “South China Sea arbitration abuses international law: Chinese scholar”.
The Philippines embassy in China warned its citizens to be “careful” due to tension before the ruling and to avoid political debate. The embassy also urged its citizens to carry identification papers “at all times” and report any threat received to the embassy and Chinese police.
Key sea lane
China asserts sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped each year, despite rival claims from the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.
The US says it wants the crucial sea lane to be treated as international waters.
Both Beijing and Washington have accused each other of provocations in the South China Sea.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said: “China’s leaders will simply shrug off the tribunal’s rulings.
“In recent weeks they’ve labelled the court illegal, irrelevant and said it had no jurisdiction. And they appear to care little about Washington’s renewed threats and warnings.”
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Even if Beijing ignores the court’s decision, it is significant as it will be the first time that a legal challenge has been brought against China in the dispute.
China’s expanding presence
Including the Philippines, the dispute draws in a total of five countries with overlapping claims in the 3.5 million square kilometre sea, where China has been expanding its presence by building artificial islands and dispatching patrol boats that keep fishing vessels from other countries away.
The arbitration court ruling will not decide on matters of territorial sovereignty, but will apply the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in determining which countries can claim economic exploitation rights, based on geographic features.
The court has no power of enforcement, but a victory for the Philippines could spur Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, which also have overlapping claims, to file similar claims.[Source: Al-Jazeera]