Understanding Tribunal’s Rejection of Beijing’s South China Sea Claims

Understanding Tribunal’s Rejection of Beijing’s South China Sea Claims
Protesters outside of the Chinese Consulate before the Hague tribunal announced its ruling on the South China Sea dispute, Makati city, Philippines, July 12, 2016 (AP photo by Bullit Marquez).

In a landmark ruling Tuesday, an international tribunal in The Hague rejected China’s extensive claims to sovereignty over the waters of the South China Sea, saying they had no legal basis. The tribunal also ruled that Beijing had violated the Philippines’ maritime rights with its construction of artificial islands. The Philippines brought the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 after China seized a reef over which both countries claimed sovereignty.

The five-member tribunal ruled that China’s historical claims to waters within the so-called nine-dash line, which covers most of the South China Sea, are invalid since they are incompatible with the exclusive economic zone rules set out by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, which both the Philippines and China have ratified. The tribunal also ruled that several reefs and rocks in the South China Sea that China has built into military outposts were too small for China to be granted territorial waters or an exclusive economic zone.

In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the ruling: “China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards.” China refused to participate in the tribunal, arguing that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction. Beijing claims that because the sovereignty of the reefs and islands in the South China Sea is disputed, UNCLOS does not apply since it only covers maritime, and not land, disputes.

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