China’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that more than 40 countries have backed Beijing’s position on an international court case over the disputed South China Sea.

The case brought before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague by the Philippines contests the legality of Beijing’s “nine-dash line” claim to most of the South China Sea. China has refused to participate in the case and has vowed to ignore the ruling, which may come later this month or in early June.

Beijing has launched a charm offensive to shore up its position in the South China Sea ahead of the court’s decision, which is widely expected to rule in favor of Manila.

“Any country free of selfish political gains or prejudice would support China’s just position on the South China Sea issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a news conference late Friday. “A lot of countries, as well as the Arab League, a heavyweight international organization in the region, have openly endorsed China’s position.”

In its campaign to win support for its stance, China has mainly courted smaller nations. Niger, a landlocked West African nation of 17 million people, was the latest country to voice its backing for China on the issue, Hua said.

“I am convinced that as more and more people learn about the warp and woof of the South China Sea issue, more and more countries would speak out for justice and express their explicit support to China on this issue,” she added.

Earlier this week, countries including Burundi, Slovenia and Mozambique also pledged their support for China, the ministry said.

The stepped-up campaign comes on the heels of what the Pentagon said was an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. spy plane by two Chinese fighter jets Wednesday. Beijing demanded the U.S. immediately halt the reconnaissance flights off the Chinese coast.

The two powers have faced off over the South China Sea issue, with the U.S. sending guided-missile destroyers to conduct what Washington calls “freedom of navigation” operations near China’s man-made islands in the waters.

China claims most of the waters in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

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