A dispute between the Philippines and China over parts of the South China Sea will be heard at an international court starting Tuesday. While the Southeast Asian country has said it is prepared to present its case, China has refused to recognize the court's jurisdiction.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands will hear the case from Tuesday through Monday, the Philippine government said, in a statement. Just last month the court ruled it had jurisdiction, setting the stage for this month's hearings. The dispute was also a major topic in and around three Asian summits in Manila and Kuala Lumpur last week, with U.S. President Barack Obama weighing in on the issue.
The South China Sea is a major trade route and is believed to have vast oil and gas deposits. While China claims most of the region as its sovereign territory, other countries have also laid claims to parts of the sea.
The arbitration case was started by the Philippines in January 2013, alleging China was encroaching on Philippine territory in the South China Sea. China, which has long claimed most of the sea has become more assertive in recent years, resulting in run-ins with the Philippines and Vietnam. In the past year, China has also implemented big reclamation projects to create or expand islands on which it is building airstrips and other facilities.
China's actions have received more attention since the U.S. last month ignored Chinese warnings not to send the USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, within a 12-mile radius China claims around one of those islands. In November, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier as it plied the South China Sea. The U.S. has also said it will send so-called freedom of navigation missions twice a week to ensure sea lanes remain open. And, last week in Manila, Obama called on China to stop reclamation activities.
The hearings in the Netherlands are closed to the public but Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Japan -- countries with contesting claims to portions of the South China Sea -- have been allowed to send observers, according to The Guardian.