MOSCOW, July 13 (Xinhua) — The dispute over the South China Sea should not damage the strong relationship between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a Russian expert said.

"There is a free trade zone with a turnover of hundreds of billions of dollars between China and ASEAN countries. It is important that the existing mutual interests are not interrupted by the dispute, as any conflict in the Asia-Pacific would affect the regional economy and politics," Vladimir Petrovsky, chief research fellow at the Center for Russian-Chinese Relations Studies and Forecasting at the Moscow-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

The tribunal handling the South China Sea arbitration case issued its award on Tuesday, amid a global chorus that the panel has no jurisdiction.

The five-member tribunal offered a summary of its decisions, which sweepingly side with the claims filed by the administration of former Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III.

Beijing said Tuesday it neither accepts nor recognizes the award.

This is the only reasonable position from the point of view of international law, the expert said.

There have been few case of a country being dragged into an arbitration over a territorial dispute, he said. He added that if the Philippines recognized the ruling and China did not, the arbitration should not be recognized as legitimate and legal.

Commenting on the U.S. claims of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Petrovsky noted that Washington's role is very ambiguous.

The United States says it favors freedom of navigation; however, what that really means is not only free of navigation for commercial fleet but also for its Navy, which is quite a different thing, Petrovsky said.

Although the Philippines would try to use the U.S. military as a lever in its island dispute with China, Petrovsky believes it may not be wise to do so.

"The United States with its system of bilateral military-political alliances in the Asia-Pacific region has found itself in an awkward position: by contract it is supposed to protect its allies, but why should they spoil relations with China for the sake of the Philippines?" Petrovsky said.