An international tribunal has agreed to take up a case over the disputed islands in the South China Sea. The suit, first filed by the Philippines in 2013, is likely to anger Beijing.
The Hague ruled on Thursday that that case reflects "disputes between the two states concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention" - which fall within its remit.
The Philippines has asked the tribunal to declare China's so-called "nine-dash line" territorial claim over much of the South China Sea invalid under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The tribunal said that after reviewing the claims submitted by the Philippines, it had decided to reject China's argument that the "dispute is actually about sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and therefore beyond the tribunal's jurisdiction."
The court stressed, however, that it is not asking mediators "to decide the question of sovereignty over maritime features in the South China Sea that are claimed by both the Philippines and China" or rule on maritime boundaries in the region.
China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin was unmoved, however, by the announcement. He told the press that China would not participate in the case, and that it would not affect Beijing's claims of soverignty over most of the sea.
Tensions still high in region
The case, which was first taken to the Permanent Court of Arbitration two years ago, concerns the underlying rights and entitlements and the "status of certain maritime features" in the South China Sea.
Relations between Manila and Beijing were put under strain in 2012, during a tense standoff between Chinese and Filipino ships in the Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese coast guard ships took effective control of the disputed area shortly afterwards.
Since the stand-off, Chinese coast guard ships have been driving Filipino and other fishermen away from the shoal, sometimes resorting to using water canons.
More recently, China has also launched a huge reclamation program which has sparked fears that its man-made islands will be used to house new military outposts close to the Philippines and other claimants in the area.
Head of China's naval operations, Admiral Wu Shengli, held talks with his US counterpart on Thursday, after an American navy patrol navigated within 12-nautical miles (22-kilometers) of one of the artificial islands - prompting a harsh reprimand from China.
The US refuses to recognize the man-made islets as deserving of sovereign territory status, but the two countries agreed that military protocols need to be abided by to avoid "misunderstandings."
Shengli reportedly warned Admiral John Richardson that the US risks "a minor incident that sparks war" if it continues with these "provocative acts."
ksb, es/bw (Reuters, AFP, AP)