China has no rights to islands, rules tribunal

THE HAGUE — An international tribunal ruled yesterday against China’s claims it had “historical rights” in the South China Sea in a bitter dispute that risks further stoking regional tensions.

Manila — which had lodged the suit against Beijing — welcomed the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration but Beijing reacted furiously, saying it “neither accepts nor recognises” the ruling.

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, even waters approaching neighbouring countries, as its sovereign territory, basing its arguments on Chinese maps dating back to the 1940s marked with a so-called nine-dash line.

“The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’,” the Hague-based PCA said in its hard-hitting ruling.

It said Beijing had no historic rights to resources in South China Sea waters and that such rights were “extinguished” as being incompatible with exclusive economic zones provided for in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which both countries are signatories.

“China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zone by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, by constructing artificial islands and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone,” the PCA added.

The tribunal further ruled that the disputed Spratly islands “cannot generate maritime zones collectively as a unit” as claimed by China.

Yesterday’s judgment comes against the backdrop of frequent military brushes between China and its Asian neighbours the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, which ring the waters believed to hold untapped oil and gas reserves.

The tensions have also alarmed the United States which has key defence treaties with many regional allies, and in a show of strength last week sent warships to patrol close to some of the reefs and islands claimed by China.

All eyes were watching for any possible reaction on the ground or in the water from the Asian political and military powerhouse after the foreign ministry swiftly denounced the decision.

Richard Heydarian, a political analyst at De La Salle University in Manila, said the judgment was a “clean sweep” for the Philippines, with the court deciding that China had “violated prevailing international law on multiple levels”.

“China has been branded as an outlaw in unequivocal terms. US, Japan and other major powers should now focus on enforcing this binding verdict if China fails to comply,” he said.

The Philippines, which had lodged the suit in 2013, welcomed the “milestone decision”.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said experts were studying the decision. “In the meantime, we call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety”.

The Philippine embassy in China has warned its citizens to beware of personal “threats” and avoid political debates.

More than 20 Chinese police were positioned outside the embassy, with more in vans nearby — a significantly larger presence than usual — along with two lorries loaded with crowd control barriers, a possible indication that authorities expected protests.

Ahead of the decision, new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had signalled he did not want to antagonise China, saying he would not “taunt or flaunt” a favourable ruling and would seek a “soft landing” with China. — AFP

Beijing rejects verdict, Manila urges restraint

BEIJING — Beijing “does not accept and does not recognise” the ruling by a UN-backed tribunal on its dispute with the Philippines over the South China Sea, the foreign ministry said.

The declaration followed a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague that China has no historic rights to its claimed “nine-dash line”.

“The award is null and void and has no binding force,” the ministry said on its website. “China neither accepts nor recognises it.”

Beijing “does not accept any means of third party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China,” it added, reiterating its long-standing position on the dispute.

China repeatedly denied the tribunal’s authority to rule on the dispute with the Philippines over the strategically vital region, claiming the court’s actions are illegal and biased against it.

Beijing refused the opportunity to defend its position before the body.

The dispute has become the centre of a tense standoff between China and the US, with Washington claiming that China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour in the region threatens free passage through the area’s critically important shipping lanes.

In Manila, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the Philippines welcomed the ruling but urged restraint.

“The Philippines welcomes the issuance today on the arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines with regard to the South China Sea,” Yasay told reporters.

“Our experts are studying the award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves. In the meantime, we call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.” — AFP

The key findings

THE Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague yesterday issued a damning ruling against China on its long-running dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Here are some of the key findings in the lengthy document:

China’s ‘nine-dash-line’ is invalid

The five-member panel found that Chinese fishermen, among others, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea but “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources”.

The tribunal concluded there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the “nine-dash-line”.

Reclaimed islands have no exclusive economic zone

The artificial islands that China has been furiously building over recent years are not capable of sustaining a population and therefore under international treaties do not have the 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) enjoyed by inhabited land.

The tribunal noted that the current presence of official personnel on many of the features is dependent on outside support and not reflective of the capacity of the features (and) that none of the Spratly Islands is capable of generating extended maritime zones.

The tribunal found that it could — without delimiting a boundary — declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.

China has behaved unlawfully

Because areas at issue are within the Philippines EEZ, Chinese construction of artificial islands and its interference with Philippine fishing and mineral activities is illegal.

“China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. The tribunal further held that Chinese law-enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels.”

Beijing has damaged the environment

China’s large-scale land reclamation has “caused severe harm to the coral reef environment and violated its obligation to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems”.

China was also remiss in failing to put a stop to the harmful “harvesting of endangered sea turtles, coral and giant clams on a substantial scale” by its fishermen.

Island building should have stopped during the dispute process

The panel said it had no jurisdiction over the military standoff at Second Thomas Shoal, where Chinese and Philippine military and law enforcement vessels are locked in confrontation.

However, China’s recent large-scale reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations on a state during dispute resolution proceedings. — AFP

South China Sea dispute: What you need to know

What is happening?

An international tribunal was set up to rule on a centuries-old maritime dispute between the Philippines and China. The court’s findings would call into question Beijing’s wider claims to the South China Sea and spark a potentially destabilising reaction from China.

Why is that important?

Control of the South China Sea is the most contentious and explosive diplomatic issue in east Asia, with China asserting sovereignty over maritime areas that span 3.5 million square kilometres but are also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Japan. Washington has become deeply involved, backing those against China and conducting military patrols.

Although the case was raised by the Philippines, it will affect all these countries as it questions the legality of China’s “nine-dash line”, a dotted marker in Chinese maps stretching hundreds of miles south and east from the mainland.

The South China Sea is thought to have significant oil and gas reserves and is a route for about US$4.5 trillion (RM17.8 trillion) in trade. There are giant fisheries and lanes for half of all commercial shipping.

Who is making the judgment?

The Philippines raised the case in 2013 in a five-judge permanent court of arbitration in The Hague, arguing Beijing’s claim violated UN conventions.

Beijing rejected the court’s authority to rule on the case and has also attempted to discredit its work as biased by pointing to the fact that a judge from China’s regional rival Japan was involved in its creation.

What has been happening in the meantime?

China has upped activities in the South China Sea in recent months to further entrench its presence in the region. It used dredging ships to pour sand on coral reefs and turn them into islands. On these islands the Chinese military installed missile launchers, runways, barracks and other security facilities.

The court was asked to investigate whether these reclaimed areas are indeed considered “islands” under international law, which are granted exclusive economic zones. The Philippines said many should be considered “rocks”.

The UN Convention of the Law of the Sea normally stipulates a 200 nautical mile zone of the coast for economic exclusivity. But China claims 90% of the area, a much larger zone.

The Philippines refers to the area of the South China Sea it controls as the West Philippine Sea. Manila welcomed former second world war enemy Japan to conduct joint military exercises and also former coloniser United States to land fighter jets in the archipelago nation.

How is China likely to react?

Experts are divided on how China will react to the verdict, which few believe will favour Beijing. Some believe China could push back aggressively if the court comes down firmly against its interests.

China has long argued its sovereignty to the area under the “nine-dash line”, in which its vessels sailed as far back as the Han dynasty 2,000 years ago.

Possible forms of retaliation include landing fighter jets on airstrips Beijing built in disputed areas, declaring an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea or kicking off a dredging campaign at Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both the Philippines and China.

There is a precedent for violence. During the 1970s and 1980s, China and Vietnam used force several times, resulting in dozens of deaths and several sunken ships.

Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) thinktank in Washington, said she believed Beijing would seek to avoid “destabilising actions”, particularly with China set to host the G20 in September. “They are just dead set on having a successful meeting … it is Xi Jinping’s reputation at stake,” she said.

“(But) there is the potential things go the other direction and that is the Chinese think they are being bullied, they are being victimised and that the party must defend China’s sovereignty and every inch of China’s territory. In which case we could see some rather provocative moves.”

Ashley Townshend, a fellow at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre, said he believed Beijing would seek a “middle path: A way to not capitulate but also a way to not escalate”.

That would probably involve continuing to conduct military exercises in the region as a way of showing strength without further inflaming tensions.

“China tended in this context (of the South China Sea) to seize the initiative when it views an opportunity and it hasn’t tended to push ahead when it meets opposition,” Townshend said.

How will the Philippines react?

Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ newly elected president, has left experts guessing as to how he might respond to a ruling that is likely to be in his country’s favour. “The Philippines is a completely unknown quanity here. We just don’t know what Duterte is going to do,” said Glaser. “He’s a wild card.”

Duterte has vowed to ride a jet ski into disputed areas of the South China Sea in defiance of Beijing. But it is also possible that he will seek to minimise the court’s ruling in order to improve ties with China.

Duterte backed multilateral talks to settle the row. Closer relations with Beijing would give Manila access to Chinese loans and much needed investment in infrastructure, and could also help ease tensions in the region.

Who has China got on its side?

Russia has backed Beijing’s position that direct talks should take place.

And portraying itself as the victim of a US conspiracy to contain its rise, Beijing scoured the globe for supporters in its case, no matter how disconnected they might be from the subject.

Grounded airline unable to honour refunds

SHAH ALAM — Rayani Air said yesterday it had no money to refund tickets bought by its passengers.

“We ask for forgiveness because we are still unable to give refunds despite trying our best,” the country’s first shariah-compliant airline said in a statement.

The company said after the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) withdrew its Air Service Licence and Air Service Permit on June 13, after it failed safety requirements, no investors were willing to work with the airline.

“Investors who made a commitment to pump in funds on June 30 pulled out unexpectedly with the withdrawal of the licences,” it said.

Urging its customers to be patient and not to go to its office as it is closed, Rayani Air said it was working with the DCA and the Malaysian Aviation Commission for another chance to operate.

However, Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, when asked if the airline would get a new lease on life, told Malay Mail: “If they don’t have the money to refund their passengers, how are they expected to run their operations?

“They should do whatever necessary to solve this problem with their customers.”

At the Rayani Air headquarters in Shah Alam yesterday, angry ticket holders said they were mulling legal action.

Retiree Samian Nasifan, 63, went to the office to get another refund after a cheque the company issued him before Hari Raya bounced.

“I came to their office two weeks before Raya to claim my refund of RM880 after I purchased tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching,” he said.

“A week before Raya, they issued me a cheque but the bank sent me a message a few days later stating the cheque had bounced.”

Samian said he would lodge a police report against the company.

“They just left customers like me to pick up the pieces and assume we would forget such unlawful deeds,’’ he said.

Rafli Abdillah, 33, said the airline was irresponsible by not trying to connect directly with passengers who had been left in the lurch.

“How can they expect people to understand their situation when their only point of communication is through social media. They even tell customers to not come to their office,” he said.

“They did not even conduct a press conference or any other means to clear the air. And they have the audacity to ask people to understand them.”

Rafli, who works in Kuala Lumpur, said he was frustrated each time he went to Rayani Air’s office as the result would always be futile.

“I only want my RM550 refunded for tickets I purchased to Kota Kinabalu, but each time I come here, I return empty-handed,” he said when met on his third visit to the office.

“I was patient when this whole fiasco started in April. I followed their instructions for refunds but since they were only kind enough to issue a footnote explanation on Facebook, I will seek the help of the authorities, such as the consumer tribunal, to clear this mess.”

Malay Mail photographer Ahmad Zamzahuri Abas, 31, was also upset with the turn of events.

He said he had planned a four-day trip to Sabah in August last year and had bought tickets for 24 members of his family.

“It is heartbreaking. My nieces and nephews cleaned out their savings to pay for their tickets and found out that it was all for nothing,” he said.

“We paid RM4,356 and did not even receive a proper explanation of what happened. This is unfair and I will go to the authorities to seek reparations from the airline.”

Falling football goalpost kills student

GUA MUSANG — A Form Two student from SMK Tengku Indera Petra 2 was killed when a goalpost fell on him while he was playing football at the school field yesterday.

Gua Musang police chief Supt Rajab Ahad Ismail said Nik Muhamad Lutfi Kamarudin, 14, died of serious head injuries in the 9am incident.

“The field was slippery and the victim slipped and fell near the goalpost. The goalpost suddenly toppled and fell on his head. He died on the spot,” Rajab said.

Kelantan Education director Datuk Ab Aziz Abdullah, when met at the Gua Musang Hospital mortuary, said the Education Ministry had only recently issued a directive to all schools to ensure safety at their playing fields, especially football fields.

“We will be meeting the school management to check on the directive and how the incident occurred. We will take precautionary measures to ensure such incidents do not recur,” he said.

Nik Muhamad’s mother, Tuan Suraililita Tuan Ismail, 43, said the last time she saw him was when he and his younger brother, Nik Mohd Adam, 11, boarded the school bus yesterday morning.

Tuan Suraililita, who lives at the Liziz Palm Oil Mill quarters in Kuala Betis here, said Nik Muhamad was cheerful throughout the Hari Raya celebrations. — Bernama

‘Authorities not doing enough’

KUALA LUMPUR — The transport authorities need to buck up to restore the people’s confidence in public transportation, following crashes involving buses in the country.

The most recent incident on Sunday involved an express bus that rammed into 10 cars on the North-South Expressway.

Its driver had nine outstanding summonses, including for speeding, while 25 others who had driven the same bus since 2011 had 63 unsettled summonses.

Manager Vincent Louis, 41, said the transport authorities need to improve its enforcement to encourage people to take public transport.

“The fact that the driver had nine unsettled summonses shows lack of enforcement by authorities.

“How are people going to be confident in the safety and standard of our public transportation system?” he said.

Louis added that authorities should overhaul their system for a better tracking system and stricter enforcement.

“Or else it will not deter traffic offenders, including passenger vehicle drivers from breaking the law.”

Siti Mashitah Md Saad, 32, said the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) should take serious measures to make sure accidents like the one on Sunday do not happen again.

“If they want to win our confidence back as public transport customers, the authorities, such as SPAD, has to play a part.

“The vehicles have to be well maintained and the drivers have to be screened before being given the job,” she said.

Accountant Sivakumari Shanmugam, 26, said bus companies should run an audit on their bus drivers to ensure they were obeying the law.

“Besides making money from passengers, they should also ensure the safety of their passengers,” she said, adding that companies should also check if their drivers had unpaid summonses.

Sivakumari was also curious how the bus driver in the crash on Sunday could renew his licence if he had outstanding summonses.

“I thought the system was integrated in a way that if any outstanding summonses are not settled by the licence holder, their licence would not be renewed. What happened to that regulation?”

It’s scary but convenient, say commuters

PETALING JAYA — Commuters yesterday admitted they are jittery when using public transport but they say it is the most convenient way to travel.

Ahmad Reza Abdullah, 32, an IT consultant from Ipoh, said he prefered using public transportation when he returned to his hometown or when moving about in the city.

“My job requires me to travel often and to save the hassle of looking for parking and getting caught in traffic, I use public transportation,” he said.

Reza said he was worried, especially after the Sunday bus accident near the Menora tunnel on the North-South Expressway, but he would have to trust the bus drivers.

“Yes, it is scary to put your life in someone’s hands but we have to just trust them to get us to our destination safely,” he said.

Student Norazlin Shamsuddin, 21, said every time she takes an express bus to go back to her hometown, she would be worried.

“They go quite fast sometimes and if you are unlucky, you will get a rude and reckless driver. I have no choice but to take the bus as I do not own a car,” she said.

Norazlin suggested that buses undergo frequent checks to avoid any incidences.

“They should make it mandatory for buses to undergo inspection every three months to make sure they are fit to be used,” she said.

In PENANG, commuters expressed concern about using public transport after the accident on Sunday.

Some who had seen the footage of the accident on social media, were shocked that the driver had not been blacklisted, which further raised doubts over the safety of public transport.

Mohamed Fauzi Johan, 28, said public transportation, especially express buses, had been creating havoc on the road and drove people to use their own transport.

“People take the bus to go back to their hometowns to avoid the massive traffic jams during the festive season and long holidays but we now fear for our safety.

“The bus driver who rammed into the cars on Sunday was booked numerous times and I wonder why he is still allowed to drive,” he said.

A 21-year-old college student from Kulim, R. Saravanan, said he often uses the bus service to commute from his hometown to his hostel in Prai when his father could not send him there.

He said his parents were now worried and are reconsidering allowing him go to college by bus.

“Roads accidents happen but in this case, the driver and the company must be held responsible because they appointed a bad driver and the bus was not well maintained.

“I will try my best to avoid using buses, it is better if I can get my own transport,” he said.

Tan Wen Xing, 35, a clerk, said she would rather take a flight instead of taking the bus.

“I always had doubts with the public transport service, except for the Rapid Penang bus as they are professional.

“If I want to travel to another state, taking an express bus or other modes of public transport would be my last resort,” she said.

Agencies not in sync, says deputy transport minister

PETALING JAYA — The express bus crash on the North-South Expressway near the Menora Tunnel in Ipoh on Sunday has exposed major loopholes in the traffic blacklist system.

Three major enforcement agencies — the police, Road Transport Department and Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) — are not linked to a common system to share information and ensure repeat traffic offenders, including drivers of commercial vehicles, are kept off the road.

Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Ab Aziz Kaprawi said this allowed motorists, including those with numerous unpaid summonses, to renew their driver’s licence, public service vehicle licence and vehicle road-tax easily.

“All three authorities are working on different platforms and there is no one system to synchronise the information of motorists who break the law,” he said.

Ab Aziz said police and SPAD would generally present data of “serious repeat offenders” and vehicle registration numbers to RTD on a monthly basis.

“Police or SPAD will either email or send a file or document of a list of motorists and vehicles that RTD should blacklist. What offences can be blacklisted? That is left to the discretion of the police,” he said.

“While all three agencies have a good working relationship, there is a need for an integrated system so that information can be easily and quickly shared among them.”

Ab Aziz said the 25 drivers who had driven the bus involved in Sunday’s crash in the past had chalked up 63 unsettled summonses from 2011 to this year.

The bus driver, who crashed into 10 cars reportedly because of faulty breaks, had nine unpaid summonses from 2011 to last year.

“The 63 summonses were issued to 25 drivers. However, police only handed six names to RTD to be blacklisted,” Ab Aziz said.

“The registration number of the bus has not been blacklisted.

“This is why we need the the Automated Awareness Safety System (Awas) which is an integration of the AES and Kejara points demerit system. It must come into effect as soon as possible.”

Ab Aziz said the system, linking all three agencies, was expected to be in place by year-end.

He said if the authorities found that the bus involved in the crash, registered to Johor Baru-based Qistna Express Sdn Bhd, had faulty brakes, the company could be charged under Section 23 of the Land Public Transport Act 2010.

Ab Aziz also criticised bus companies that did not scrutinise their drivers.

“Everybody must be responsible, from the authorities to bus companies. Safety must be a priority,” he said.

Traffic chief: Don’t single us out

PETALING JAYA — The Road Transport Department (RTD) and Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) should have been aware of the 72 outstanding summonses issued since 2011 to the drivers of the express bus that slammed into 10 cars on the North-South Expressway on Sunday.

Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department director SAC Datuk Mahamad Akhir Darus said those who were blacklisted would have been highlighted in RTD’s system.

The drivers would not be allowed to renew their licences and the vehicle owner would not be able to renew the road tax and permit.

“When we issue summonses and if the offenders fail to pay, we will forward our request to RTD for them to be blacklisted,” he said.

“Blacklisted motorists would only be allowed to renew their licences once they pay their summonses.”

He said it was unfair to single out the police as other departments should have red-flagged motorists, especially drivers of commecial vehicles, for numerous unpaid traffic offences.

“Bus owners will renew their permits with SPAD and the road tax with RTD. Bus drivers will renew their licences with RTD. These agencies should know about the summonses,” he said.

Asked how the bus driver in the incident was still driving despite having unpaid summonses, Mahamad Akhir said: “What have the other agencies been doing?

“It is not my intention to create friction among any department but do not just blame the police.”

Mahamad Akhir also took bus companies to task for failing to ensure summonses picked up by their drivers were paid.

He said police would conduct roadblocks to check on motorists, including bus drivers, who failed to pay their summonses.

“However, we did not come across this bus or the driver (involved in Sunday’s incident) during our roadblocks. There are thousands of buses, you can’t expect us to keep track of every one of them.”

Bukit Aman Traffic Police Investigation and Enforcement (operation) officer DSP Bakri Zainal Abidin said those who failed to settle their summonses would be automatically blacklisted and their status updated in a “real-time system accessible to other agencies, including the RTD”.

“Police and the RTD have an integrated system. Police would request the RTD to blacklist serious offenders as the RTD has the power to blacklist.

“SPAD and the RTD are in the midst of integrating their systems.”

The Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) has started its probe into Sunday’s crash.

A team of five, led by Kak D Wing, inspected the damaged bus at the Puspakom in Gopeng.

The team spent three hours there before meeting traffic police officers in Ipoh. They then visited the crash site at Km265.8 of the expressway.

The team will continue its inspection at the site today.

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