An international court in The Hague has ruled against China and in favor of the Philippines by agreeing to hear a case brought by Manila in a long-standing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled Thursday the case actually concerns a disagreement over the interpretation of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) - a question over which the tribunal does have jurisdiction.
China had claimed that the dispute was strictly about the sovereignty over islands in the sea, an issue over which the court has no jurisdiction. A senior Chinese diplomat on Friday renewed Beijing's pledge to neither participate in the case nor accept the eventual ruling.
The Philippines' chief lawyer in the case, Florin Hilbay, welcomed the court's decision, calling it "a significant step forward in the Philippines' quest for a peaceful, impartial resolution of the disputes between the parties and the clarification of their rights under UNCLOS."
Washington also welcomed the ruling, according to a senior U.S. defense official.
China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim part of the waters, which are a vital international trade route.
China is building artificial islands in the contested waters. A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 22 kilometers of one of the islands earlier this week, angering China. The U.S. says it will continue to sail anywhere international law allows.
The court says it will consider seven of 15 complaints brought against China by the Philippines while setting aside seven others and seeking clarification from Manila on one. Manila brought the case to the tribunal in 2013.
The court plans to issue its final ruling some time next year. China says it will not recognize the court's ultimate decision, as it continues to claim sovereignty over the islands close to Philippines' territorial waters. China has said it prefers to settle the dispute in bilateral talks.
U.S. Republican Senator John McCain of the Armed Services Committee said he welcomes The Hague ruling as an "important step forward in upholding international law against China's attempts to assert vast and, in my view, questionable claims in the South China Sea."