THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An international tribunal ruled Thursday that it can take on a case between China and the Philippines over disputed territory in the South China Sea, overruling objections from Beijing that the arbitration body has no authority to hear the case.
The Philippine case, which was filed before the tribunal in The Hague in January 2013, contends that China’s massive territorial claims in the strategic waters do not conform with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and should be declared invalid. The Philippines also asserts that some Chinese-occupied reefs and shoals do not generate, or create a claim to, territorial waters.
The tribunal said it has authority to look into seven issues raised by the Philippines against China but added that its jurisdiction over seven others “will need to be considered in conjunction with the merits.” It asked Manila to clarify one other issue.
It said it has set hearings and expects to hand down a decision on the case next year.
China, the Philippines and four other governments have overlapping claims across the vast South China Sea, with Beijing claiming it has sovereignty over virtually all of the waters. Some of the disputed areas are believed to sit atop vast undersea deposits of oil and gas and straddle some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
The tribunal, which conducts its hearings behind closed doors, said the Philippines has stressed it is not asking arbitrators “to decide the question of sovereignty over maritime features in the South China Sea that are claimed by both the Philippines and China” or rule on maritime boundaries in the region.
China has declared it would not take part in the arbitration, insisting on one-on-one negotiations with smaller rival claimants which analysts say would give it advantage because of its sheer size and clout.
After Thursday’s ruling, China reiterated its position of not accepting or participating in the arbitration.