BEIJING – China swiftly rejected an international tribunal's ruling Tuesday that its expansive claim to the South China Sea had no legal basis, saying the ruling was null and void and that Beijing would not accept it.
The ruling by the five-member panel at The Hague handed a massive victory to the Philippines, which had filed the case in 2013 challenging the so-called nine-dash line that China uses to claim virtually the entire South China Sea. Manila opposed it because it infringes upon its own 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Chinese President Xi Jinping repeated Beijing's stance that the South China Sea has been Chinese territory since "ancient times" and said China's territorial sovereignty and interests in the region would not be influenced under any circumstances by the ruling, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
"This farce is now over," said Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards."
The ministry repeated China's often-expressed stance that the Philippines' move to initiate arbitration without China's consent had been in "bad faith" and in violation of international law.
The tribunal also said China had violated its obligations to refrain from aggravating the dispute while the settlement process was ongoing and also ruled that China's large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands that destroyed coral reefs and the natural condition of the disputed areas.
Analysts said the ruling dealt a blow to China's South China Sea strategy by potentially providing ammunition to the arguments of other countries involved in maritime disputes with China. Six governments have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea — China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. In addition, China's nine-dash line overlaps waters that are part of Indonesia's internationally recognized exclusive economic zone.
"It goes much farther than most people expected that this was going to go. It's really devastating for China," said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "It's quite serious for China and it doesn't open up a lot of opportunities for face saving-ways out."
Glaser said the ruling also meant that the Philippines would have less of an incentive to talk to China about sharing or jointly developing resources in the South China Sea.
Chen Xiangmiao, a researcher at the Chinese government-backed National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the ruling was "very unfair" but he urged China to tone down its rhetoric against the arbitration process.
A strategic next step should be heightened diplomatic dialogue with the Philippines and Vietnam, he said. "Successful bilateral negotiation to work around the ruling would be an effective repudiation of the arbitration."
But China might choose to take a hard line with the Philippines, perhaps taking punitive measures such as sanctions, to send a message to other claimants, said Chinese military expert Yue Gang, a retired colonel.
"China will take counter-measures to punish the Philippines and that will make other claimants such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia to adopt a prudent attitude on the South China Sea issue," Yue said. "The most likely measure China may adopt will be economic sanctions against the Philippines."
"When it comes to the territorial integrity, China has no way to retreat and make concession," Yue said. He added that China could likely establish an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea
Earlier Tuesday in Beijing, ahead of the tribunal's ruling, the European Council's president told Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that in dealing with the South China Sea dispute, it was in the interest of both sides to protect a global order underpinned by rules.
European Council President Donald Tusk, in opening remarks in a meeting with Li on Tuesday, said: "The South China Sea we will see an important ruling today. Therefore let me repeat this: The rule-based international order is in our common interest and both China and the EU have to protect it, as this is in our people's best interest."
Xinhua reported Tuesday that China's government earlier in the day had successfully landed a Cessna CE-680, a midsized business jet, on airstrips on the Mischief and Subi Reefs in the contested Spratlys.
The news of the newly-operating runways — on the day of the Hague arbitration ruling — could be particularly worrisome for the Philippines, which has a contingent of marines stationed roughly 20 miles away at the Second Thomas Shoal and is seeking to drill oil nearby.
Two new runways on Mischief and Subi Reefs, along with a third on Fiery Cross Reef, would form a strategic triangle that would help China consolidate its air patrol capabilities in the Spratlys, according to analysts at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.
Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.