(From Reuters)

China has widespread support in the international community for its decision not to have anything to do with a legal case lodged by the Philippines against Chinese claims in the South China Sea, a senior diplomat said on Thursday.

Xu Hong at a news conference in Beijing on May 12

China has been stepping up its rhetoric ahead of a ruling expected in a few weeks by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the Philippines case.

China says it is fully within its rights not to participate in what it views as forced arbitration, and says the Philippines is using the case to directly undermine Chinese sovereignty.

In February, the United States and the European Union said China should respect the ruling. The court has no powers of enforcement and its rulings have been ignored before.

Xu Hong, head of the Chinese foreign ministry’s Department of Treaties and Law, said the issue was being hyped up by people who lack a proper understanding of international law.

“We can see so many countries coming to the fore hyping this issue up, but it doesn’t matter how loud their voices are, they still represent a minority of countries in the world,” he told a news briefing.

“If you look at who is talking about international law all the time, it is politicians and non-professionals with ulterior motives. It is them who really need to learn something about international law.”

The foreign ministry has in recent weeks been claiming support for its South China Sea position from countries as diverse as Cambodia and Yemen.

Australia defends US act

Australia backed the United States on Thursday in its so-called freedom of navigation operation close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea, a patrol China has denounced as an illegal threat to peace.

USS William P. Lawrence (Front) traveled within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef on Tuesday

U.S. guided missile destroyer the USS William P. Lawrence traveled within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef on Tuesday.

The operation was undertaken to challenge what a U.S. Defense Department spokesman described as excessive maritime claims by China, Taiwan and Vietnam, which were seeking to restrict navigation rights in the South China Sea.

Australia has consistently supported U.S.-led freedom of navigation activities in the South China Sea, where Beijing has been adding land reclamation to islands and reefs in waters claimed by several regional countries.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters he had reiterated that support in a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama early on Thursday. 

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