China today claimed it had the backing of over 40 countries in its campaign to shore up support for its stand opposing arbitration by a UN tribunal to end the dispute with its neighbours over the strategic South China Sea.
China, which has opposed the tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS), has stepped up its campaign against the arbitration process. The tribunal is set to deliver its judgement on a petition by the Philippines against China over rival claims to the strategic reefs and atolls in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
Ahead of the tribunal’s judgement, China has mobilised backing from Russia, besides several countries in Asia and Africa.
“Up to now there have been over 40 countries which have endorsed China’s position officially and also Arab league has expressed its support,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters.
Hua said the latest country to extend support to China was Niger, which has issued a statement backing China’s stand that all international and judicial arbitration institutions should respect every country’s right to choose how to resolve disputes through their own choice.
“We believe there will be more countries and organisations supporting China,” Hua said.
China says it has opted out of the UNCLOS arbitration several years ago, and therefore the UN tribunal has no jurisdiction to arbitrate the Philippines case. Despite Beijing’s boycott the tribunal has gone ahead with the hearing.
China believes the tribunal’s judgement may go against it.
China also cites the joint statement issued after last month’s meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, India, China, (RIC) in Moscow as supporting its stand.
The joint statement on the SCS has said: “Russia, India and China are committed to maintaining a legal order for the seas and oceans based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UNCLOS. All related disputes should be addressed through negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned.
“In this regard the Ministers called for full respect of all provisions of UNCLOS, as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Guidelines for the implementation of the DOC.”
China claims sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, through which more than USD 5 trillion of trade passes annually. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over some of the areas claimed by China.