AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Philippines asked global judges on Tuesday to recognise its right to exploit waters in the South China Sea, a case that could bolster territorial claims by other countries against China in the resource-rich body of water.
China, which claims economic and territorial rights in almost the entire sea, has boycotted the proceedings and rejects the court’s authority in the case.
But experts say a ruling could influence other cases in the heated South China Sea dispute - involving Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and other countries. Indonesia has signalled it may also go to the court to counter an increasingly-assertive China that has heightened tension in the region.
Lawyers appeared at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, asking it to acknowledge the Philippines’ right to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline, under the terms of a U.N. convention.
Manila is contesting Beijing’s claim, dating back to just after World War Two, to an area known as the “nine-dash lane” which stretches south and east of mainland China and covers hundreds of disputed islands and reefs.
“Now the court will discuss the meat of our case against China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose said in Manila.
“We are confident that we will get a favourable decision on some of the issues, but it would be unrealistic to expect that we will get a favourable decision on all issues,” he added.
The Philippines will make submissions on 15 claims during the proceedings. China says the legal challenge could delay a negotiated settlement between the two countries.
Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia will also observe the pleadings, which will run until Nov. 30 in private. A final ruling is expected in mid-2016.
The United States, traditionally the region’s dominant security player, also objects to China’s moves, sending military aircraft to survey China’s development activities.
Court rulings are supposed to be binding on its member countries, which include China. But the tribunal, set up in 1899 as one of the first international judicial institutions, has no powers of enforcement and its rulings have been ignored before.
The Philippines’ case is based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) - a pact that does not cover matters of sovereignty, but outlines a system of territory and economic zones that can be claimed from features such as islands, rocks and reefs.
Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Andrew Heavens