Reuters International

Xu Hong, director-general of the Department of Treaty and Law of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, answers a question at a news conference in Beijing, China, May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

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BEIJING (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.

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.

Xu said no country would accept compulsory arbitration when core interests were at stake.

"Actually there are a number of voices of reason on this issue from genuine international law experts who have had some serious and objective comments, but all those comments have been neglected or ignored by some people," he said.

"Some people are trying to change the concept stealthily to confound right and wrong and black and white. They may be able to mislead public opinion for some time but eventually lies are lies and even repeated a thousand times will not become truth," Xu said.

China had always been a firm defender and practitioner of international law, he said.

"We don't feel isolated at all."

China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of maritime trade passes each year. The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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