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China Asks Russia for Help Against Philippines in South China Sea Legal Battle

China is looking for Russia’s help to press its claims in the South China Sea, as the Philippines argues an important territorial dispute before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.

Forbes sums up the court case:

Long-time U.S. ally the Philippines filed a case against China in early 2013 with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague less than a year after China’s controversial seizure of Scarborough Shoal, only around 140 miles from the Philippines and well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The Philippines is asking to Court to rule on several items: Whether China’s so-called U-shaped line that encompasses more then 80% of the South China Sea is compatible with the UN’s Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), whether five of the eight features occupied by China should be considered submerged and therefore unable to generate a territorial sea or an EEZ, whether the remaining three features occupied by China are just rocks without a claim to an EEZ, and whether the Philippines is entitled to a full 200-nautical mile EEZ regardless of the existence of other occupied offshore features.

Speaking through its state-run media outlet Xinhua, China denounced this court case as “internationalizing” the South China Sea dispute, citing support for “settlement through negotiation and consultation” from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Beijing praised itself for “upholding the dignity and authority of the law” by opposing the Philippines’s legal action and spoke of sharing an interest with Moscow to “stay on guard against abuses of mandatory arbitration.”

As Forbes points out, China is “just about friendless geopolitically,” and one of its few friends is North Korea, the kind of “friend” nobody brags about having.

The South China Morning Post notes that “Russia is also facing a lawsuit at the Permanent Court of Arbitration launched by a Ukrainian businessman over his right to operate a passenger airport in ­Crimea after Russia annexed the peninsula.”

This gives Moscow an obvious shared interest with Beijing in challenging the legitimacy of arbitration proceedings, in addition to Russia’s need for Chinese investment, and China’s appetite for Russian arms sales.

On the other side of the dispute, the United States has been increasing its military presence in the region as a check against Chinese ambitions, and British minister Hugo Swire insisted that China must respect the authority of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

“We make it clear to the Chinese that we can only do these kinds of deals in an open and transparent way under an international rules-based system,” Swire told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as quoted by Reuters.

“Under the international rules-based system on which the world depends, we would expect the ruling from The Hague to be adhered to by all parties concerned, whichever way it goes and we would stand by others, including the United States, whichever way that ruling goes,” Swire added.

The Reuters report concedes that the arbitration court “has no powers of enforcement, and its rulings have been ignored before.”

In fact, the U.S. government is worried that China will not simply ignore the ruling, but use it as a pretext to “declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.”

Forbes argues that the chances of China respecting a Hague ruling that goes strongly against its interests are effectively zero, especially given Beijing’s indoctrination of the Chinese people in “the 100 years of humiliation national narrative,” which holds the disputed territories of the South China Sea as stolen Chinese property.

The arbitration court’s ruling is expected in May or early June.

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