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Philippines Bolsters Arbitration Case Against China

FILE - In this photo taken by surveillance planes and released May 15, 2014 by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, a Chinese vessel, top center, is used to expand structures and land on the Johnson Reef.

The Philippines on Monday sent more than 3,000 pages of additional supporting materials for its case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration that questions China’s claims in the South China Sea.

With this submission, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs added 12 more volumes to the already voluminous 4,000-page pleading it sent to the Court in The Hague a year ago.

Foreign Affairs Spokesman Charles Jose said the submission addresses concerns on the merits of the Philippines’ position and why the Philippines thinks the arbitration tribunal should have jurisdiction over the case.

“The Philippines is confident that its answers to the Tribunal’s questions leave no doubt that the Tribunal has jurisdiction over the case and that the Philippines claims, including in particular its claims concerning the nine-dash line, are well-founded in fact and law,” said Jose.

The Philippines questions what it calls China’s “excessive” assertion over the South China Sea’s features. China’s so-called “nine-dash line” claim in the disputed sea covers a tongue-shaped swath whose tip reaches as far as south as Malaysian waters.

China maintains it has “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea’s islands.” Apart from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims in the resource rich sea.

China rejects arbitration and opted out of any proceedings like this current case when it signed onto the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It did not respond to the court’s request for a rebuttal to the Philippines’ original submission. Instead, Beijing put out a statement a week before the court’s deadline, saying the court had no jurisdiction over the case.

Beijing said Manila is asking the tribunal to rule on maritime borders, an area it has no jurisdiction over. But Manila has said it is simply asking whether the “nine-dash line” has any legal basis.

In its case, the Philippines is also seeking reassurance on whether certain contested features are rocks or low-tide elevations, which it says are part of its continental shelf and well within its 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.

Gregory Poling, a fellow with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies who specializes in the disputes in the South China Sea, said the tribunal will likely stay away from the question of features.

“On that part of the case, at least, the court will look for an out, will try to be more conservative and say ‘We’re going to roll on the big stuff, the nine-dash line, things like that.’ But on this question of low-tide elevations or rocks, it’s getting too close to the delimitation issue, which China’s exempted from,” said Poling.

The international tribunal has given China until June 16 to respond to the Philippines’ latest submission. Philippine Foreign Affairs spokesman Jose said oral arguments are expected to take place in July.

He said Manila has asked the court to rule on the question of its jurisdiction and the merits of its case all at once. Jose said the Philippines expects a ruling by early 2016.

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