South China Sea Conflict
A Chinese coast guard vessel maneuvers to block a Philippine government supply ship with members of the media aboard at the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, March 29, 2014. Reuters/Erik De

China has ignored a deadline given by an international court to make its official territorial claims in the hotly disputed South China Sea to counter the claims made by the Philippines. China’s government allowed the deadline, which was Monday, to pass when it came to an arbitration claim submitted by the Philippines in The Hague, rejecting the possibility of third-party mediation.

“China will not participate in the arbitration launched by the Philippines,” Qin Gang, a foreign ministry spokesman, said in a press briefing in Beijing. “China supports resolving disputes through consultation with the countries involved on the basis of respecting historical facts and international laws.”

China’s stance on the South China Sea is clear: It believes it holds sovereignty over several islands and maritime areas on the basis of territorial lines contained on “historical maps.” Because of that stance, China has expressed the view that it will discuss disputes related to such claims only directly with other countries. When it comes to the claims filed by the Philippines to the international court, which say China is violating the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, China’s government rejects the necessity and validity of arbitration.

“The subject matter of the Philippine claims is in essence an issue of territorial sovereignty, which completely goes beyond the scope of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Liu Nanlai, the former vice president of the Chinese Society of International Law, told China’s state-run CCTV News. “That’s why the arbitration has no jurisdiction.”

Though there are actually several states with rival claims against China’s “nine-dash line” maritime boundary, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, the Philippines is arguably the most vocal. The Philippines was the first country to submit legal action in courts over the South China Sea dispute.

According to Philippine news site Rappler, the Philippines has pursued “lawfare” in the dispute with China because it is “the great equalizer” for a country vastly outsized by the Chinese in terms of military might and diplomatic clout.

Unlike a military faceoff in the seas, however, arbitration cases are easier for China to ignore, or at the very least, refuse participation. For China, the latest move by the Philippines won’t necessarily suggest a ramped-up military action, though the Chinese military in the area remains quietly prepared, but it does solidify the notion that China is making its weight count.

"Meanwhile, the Chinese side is resolute in defending its territory and maritime rights and interests,” Qin Gang said.