South China Sea: Hague case
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Foreign ministry official Xu Hong pictured during his press briefing in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

China brands international court hearings passing judgement on its claims in South China Sea an ‘orchestrated show’

Foreign ministry steps up rhetoric against the tribunal in The Hague ahead of its ruling on China’s territorial claims in the region

China has stepped up its confrontational rhetoric before an international court ruling over a South China Sea dispute, calling it “an orchestrated show” aimed at undermining its sovereignty.

Xu Hong, director-general of the treaty and law department at the foreign ministry, on Thursday lashed out at the Philippines and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which is considering its ruling after Manila brought the case against China.

“From a legal perspective, the case is a normal legal proceeding between China and the Philippines, no matter what the different opinions held by the two countries,” Xu said.

“But what we are seeing now is a clearly staged show, with not only leading and supporting actors, but also those disguising themselves as the audience echoing and colluding with each other.

Showdown in the South China Sea: how ruling by Permanent Court of Arbitration may play out in Asia

“Do you still believe it is purely an international law matter or everything that’s happening is just a coincidence?” he asked, referring to support for the Philippines from the United States, the European Union and other Western nations. “No matter how loud those noises are, the views expressed by a small clique of Western nations cannot represent the entire international community.”

Analysts see Xu’s remarks as part of Beijing’s last-minute ­efforts to discredit the tribunal, which is expected to rule against China within the next few weeks.

China is seeking allies in Asia and beyond to contest the ruling. In the latest round of diplomacy, Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting the Middle East in an apparent effort to seek support.

Xu said China would not accept the tribunal’s findings or any bargaining by the Philippines or other nations after the ruling. He warned the Philippines alone must “bear all the possible consequences” of the “biased ruling”.

A file picture of the US warship the USS William P. Lawrence which carried out a “freedom of navigation exercise” earlier this week by sailing close to islands controlled by China in a disputed area of the South China Sea. The patrol comes amid increasing tension in the region over rival claims to the ocean’s waters. Photo: AFP

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

Amid widespread criticism over China’s expansive claims and its rejection of the tribunal’s authority, Xu said countries urging China to accept the ruling were “ignorant” to think there was only one option in order to abide by international law.

He said nations should not be kidnapped by the ruling, “a vicious act against China”, and China was not the first nation to reject a UN tribunal’s arbitration.

What we are seeing now is a clearly staged show
Xu Hong, foreign ministry official

Xu insisted that the sea had been China’s inherent territory for centuries, long before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea came into force.

Xu denounced US assertions that China’s claims threatened freedom of navigation in international waters, saying it was American patrols that had violated international law and the sovereign rights of various nations ­including China.

US Navy carries out patrol in disputed part of South China Sea after PLA wraps up combat drills in the area

Echoing her former colleagues, Fu Ying, ex-deputy foreign minister and now head of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, blamed US President Barack Obama’s meddling in the disputes for escalating tensions.

In an article this week in both The National Interest magazine in the US and China Newsweek magazine, she said China’s sovereignty in the sea had been widely recognised before Obama took office in 2009 – and, in particular, before his “pivot to Asia” policy shift, widely seen as aimed at China.

She said the pivot had “contributed to the confidence of rival claimants ... to challenge China”.
Additional reporting Catherine Wong