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U.S. says South China Sea ruling 'final, legally binding'

The United States said Tuesday that an international tribunal's ruling on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea is "final and legally binding on both China and the Philippines," as tensions between the two superpowers rose higher.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague delivered the verdict rejecting China's claims to most of the South China Sea.

The verdict was a victory for the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations locked in maritime disputes with China.

Beijing immediately rejected the ruling, saying it does not accept or recognize it.

"When joining the Law of the Sea Convention, parties agree to the convention's compulsory dispute settlement process to resolve disputes. In today's decision and in its decision from October of last year, the tribunal unanimously found that the Philippines was acting within its rights under the convention in initiating this arbitration," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

"As provided in the convention, the tribunal's decision is final and legally binding on both China and the Philippines. The United States expresses its hope and expectation that both parties will comply with their obligations," he said.

Kirby also urged all claimants to avoid provocative statements or actions, saying the ruling can and should serve as a new opportunity to renew efforts to address maritime disputes peacefully.

"We encourage claimants to clarify their maritime claims in accordance with international law -- as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention -- and to work together to manage and resolve their disputes," Kirby said.

"Such steps could provide the basis for further discussions aimed at narrowing the geographic scope of their maritime disputes, setting standards for behavior in disputed areas, and ultimately resolving their underlying disputes free from coercion or the use or threat of force," he said.

Tuesday's ruling adds to tensions between Washington and Beijing over last week's decision by the U.S. and South Korea to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system in the South. China has strongly protested the planned deployment, claiming the system can be used against it.

White House senior director for Asian affairs Daniel Kritenbrink rejected speculation that the U.S. is using the maritime dispute to keep China in check.

"We have no need or interest in stirring tension in the South China Sea to create a pretext for our involvement in the region, as some like to suggest. We have been a Pacific power for decades, and the demand signal from the region for our continuing leadership is only growing stronger," he said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

"We also do not fear China's rise, nor do we seek to use the South China Sea to thwart it. Rather, we welcome the emergence of a peaceful, stable, and prosperous China that plays a responsible role in global affairs. We benefit from a confident and stable China that serves as an engine of economic growth and a contributor to addressing global challenges," he said. (Yonhap)

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