Manila: A Hague-based tribunal has asked China to defend its territorial claims in the South China Sea by submitting evidence within six months despite Beijing`s refusal to respond to a Philippine legal challenge to Beijing`s vast claims to the strategic waters.
China has refused to join the arbitration process initiated by the Philippine government last year. Today, Philippine officials pressed a call for China to join the arbitration as a peaceful and durable solution to the long-raging territorial disputes, which have flared in recent years and sparked alarm across Asia and beyond.
The Hague-based tribunal issued a statement yesterday, giving China until December 15 to submit written arguments and evidence against the Philippine complaint, which questioned the validity of China`s so-called "nine-dash" claim, which refers to a rough Chinese demarcation on its official maps of territorial claims that cover virtually the entire South China Sea.
Aside from China and the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have overlapping claims across the vast South China Sea, with Beijing saying it has sovereignty over virtually all of the resource-rich waters since ancient times.
China`s separate disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam have worsened recently, especially after it deployed an oil rig early last month in waters also claimed by Hanoi, sparking violent anti-China protests in Vietnam.
There have been fears the territorial conflicts in the region, including a dispute between Japan and China in the East China Sea, could spark Asia`s next armed conflict, although analysts say a major fight is unlikely given fears that any major instability that could shatter bullish economies in the region.
After filing a complaint early last year, the Philippines submitted written arguments and evidence against China`s claims on March 30.
The five-man tribunal asked China to respond, but said the Chinese government sent a notice last month reiterating that "it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the Philippines" and that the notice it sent "shall not be regarded as China`s acceptance of or participation in the proceedings."