China's South China Sea Claims Rejected in Landmark Ruling

The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016, invalidating China's nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea. Despite the ruling, China continues to assert its presence in the disputed waters, sparking tensions with neighboring countries.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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China's South China Sea Claims Rejected in Landmark Ruling

China's South China Sea Claims Rejected in Landmark Ruling

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered a historic ruling in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China's expansive nine-dash line claim and alleged historic rights in the South China Sea. The tribunal also declared Chinese land reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands as illegal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Why this matters: The South China Sea dispute has far-reaching implications for global trade and security, as it is a vital waterway through which a significant portion of international trade passes. A failure to resolve the dispute peacefully could lead to increased tensions and conflicts in the region, affecting not only the countries directly involved but also the global economy.

Despite the landmark decision, territorial disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea continue to be a source of tension among several countries, including China, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines. China has modernized its armed forces, acquiring new military assets and revamping its defense strategy in the region.

The Philippines recently accused China of conducting "small-scale reclamation" at the Sabina Shoal, with the Philippine Coast Guard identifying China as the "most probable actor" behind the activity. A maritime assessment in March revealed severe degradation of coral reefs on Pag-asa Island, with debris indicating man-made damage.

Diplomatic tensions have escalated over the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, with a purported transcript of a resupply deal prompting calls for the expulsion of Chinese diplomats. Philippine National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano warned, "The Chinese embassy's actions should not be allowed to pass unsanctioned without serious penalty."

The Philippines has assured that there is no attempt to sideline Chinese investors, despite the increasing diplomatic stand-offs. Economic Planning Secretary Balisacan stated, "There was no attempt to sideline Chinese investors even as the two nations increasingly engaged in diplomatic stand-offs." However, the proposed energy facilities on Chinese-built artificial islands could potentially be used to power military bases.

The South China Sea, a vital waterway through which $3 trillion worth of trade passes annually, remains a flashpoint in the region. China claims nearly the entirety of the sea, overlapping with parts claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, which stated that Beijing's claims had no basis under international law, has not deterred China from asserting its presence in the disputed waters.

Key Takeaways

  • In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidating China's South China Sea claims.
  • The South China Sea dispute affects global trade and security, with $3 trillion worth of trade passing through annually.
  • China continues to assert its presence in the disputed waters, despite the 2016 ruling.
  • Territorial disputes and tensions remain among China, Brunei, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
  • The Philippines accuses China of conducting "small-scale reclamation" and man-made damage to coral reefs.