China to create maritime judicial center as South China Sea tensions simmer

Story highlights

  • The center will "safeguard China's national sovereignty" report says
  • China has refused to participate in international arbitration on South China Sea
  • China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan are involved in disputes

(CNN)China will create an international maritime judicial center to protect its national sovereignty and maritime rights, the country's Supreme People's Court said Sunday, according to state news agency Xinhua.

The move comes as tensions rise in the South China Sea, where China is locked in long-standing maritime disputes with several countries.
    The report gave few details on how the center would operate but said courts across the country would work to make China into a "maritime power."
    "We will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, maritime interests and other core interests," said Zhou Qiang, China's chief justice.
    China has declined to participate in a case brought by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.
    The suit was first brought by the Philippines in 2013 to settle maritime claims in the South China Sea but China has refused to participate. A ruling is expected in May.
    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news conference Tuesday that China was fully in line with the law for not accepting the arbitration.
    "The Philippines ... has broken with the practice that arbitration should be mutually agreed," he said. "The so-called arbitration is tainted and gone astray and China is not going to humor it."
    China has come under fire from the United States and its allies over reclaiming some 3,000 acres of land in massive dredging operations that have turned sandbars into islands.
    It's also warned U.S. warships and military aircraft to stay away from these islands.
    China claims most of the South China Sea, but Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims.
    China has long been frustrated by its relative lack of influence at international organizations.
    In 2013, it created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as an alternative to the World Bank (a U.S.-based institution) and the Asian Development Bank (where Japan is a major force.)