A Chinese ship (R) uses water cannon on a Vietnamese Sea Guard ship on the South China Sea near the Paracels islands, in this handout photo taken on May 3, 2014 and released by the Vietnamese Marine Guard on May 8, 2014. China's decision to park its biggest mobile oil rig 120 miles off the Vietnamese coast has exposed how vulnerable Hanoi, and other littoral states of the South China Sea, are to moves by the region's dominant power to assert its territorial claims. The Communist neighbours are at loggerheads over the drilling rig in contested waters, each accusing the other of ramming its ships in the area in the worst setback for Sino-Vietnamese ties in years. While Hanoi's dispute with Beijing over the Spratly Islands, for example, involves fellow claimants the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, it is only Vietnam that contests China's expanding occupation of the Paracels. Photo taken on May 3, 2014. REUTERS/Vietnam Marine Guard/Handout via Reuters (MID-SEA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ENERGY CIVIL UNREST MARITIME TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY

The European Union on Friday issued a statement noting China’s legal defeat over the South China Sea but avoided direct reference to Beijing, reflecting discord among EU governments over how strongly to respond to the court ruling.
While the EU is neutral in China’s dispute with its Asian neighbours, Britain, France and Germany wanted to make clear that Beijing must uphold international law as it seeks a bigger global role.
But speaking with one European voice has become difficult as some smaller governments, including Hungary and Greece, rely on Chinese investment and are unwilling to criticise Beijing in spite of its militarisation of South China Sea islands.
Croatia and Slovenia have their own maritime dispute.
They were worried about setting precedents by coming out too strongly in favour or against the court in The Hague that ruled on the South China Sea case, the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
In the statement of all 28 EU governments, the bloc acknowledged Tuesday’s ruling in The Hague and said it was committed to maintaining a legal order of the seas and oceans.
The EU also said all sides should resolve the maritime dispute through peaceful means, to clarify their claims and pursue them in respect and in accordance with international law.
EU governments said they supported a “swift conclusion” on talks for a so-called code of conduct for the South China Sea, a vital waterway through which 5 trillion dollars of trade passes a year.
In the case brought by the Philippines, the court ruled on Tuesday that Beijing’s claim to 85 per cent of the sea violated Manila’s economic and sovereign rights under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The U.S. and Japan responded by urging China to respect the court’s decision.
However, China has refused to recognise it.
According to a senior EU diplomat, it is not easy to speak with one voice.
“We have no issue with a peaceful settlement, but the way we phrase the statement is very sensitive,’’ he said.
Beijing’s envoy to Washington said the verdict would intensify conflict and even confrontation, though Beijing remained committed to negotiations in disputes over the vital trade route. (Reuters/NAN)