“Beijing has no historic title to the huge swathe of the South China Sea”

A report notes how China lost an international ruling, “The international tribunal delivered a stinging rebuke to China on Tuesday, ruling unanimously that Beijing has no historic title to the huge swathe of the South China Sea that it claims. The decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague represents the first explicit, legal repudiation of China’s claims to the waters of the South China Sea, a territorial land grab that has in recent years soured relations between Beijing and many of its neighbors, especially the Philippines. China refused to recognize the tribunal and has repeatedly said that it will ignore the decision, which is binding and not subject to appeal. The much-awaited decision will almost certainly further inflame tensions in the South China Sea, which has seen frequent clashes between Chinese coast guard ships and fishermen and vessels from other countries. The United States has over the past year sought to uphold international law and freedom of navigation in one of the world’s busiest waterways by dispatching navy ships to sail through waters that Beijing has tried to fence off”.

The report notes that “As expected, Beijing dismissed the ruling, reiterating previous arguments questioning the tribunal’s ability to even hear the case. “China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards,” the Chinese government said in a written statement. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the ruling as a “political farce” and insisted that, despite the decision, Beijing has sovereignty over the islets and waters of the South China Sea. “Any attempt by any force to undermine or deny in any way China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests will be futile and will fail,” he said. Wary of China’s reaction to the verdict, the Philippines called for “restraint.” “Our experts are studying this award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay told reporters. “We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety. The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision,” he said. The new Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, has signaled that he is open to talks with China over the maritime disputes. But domestically, it is an explosive issue, which means that Duterte may have limited room to tender an olive branch to Beijing. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that Washington supports the rule of law, and that the arbitration panel’s ruling is “final and legally binding on both China and the Philippines. The United States expresses its hope and expectation that both parties will comply with their obligations.” The ruling also got a chilly reception in Taipei, which, though at odds with Beijing on most issues, sees eye to eye with mainland China on the nine-dashed line, a map which was drafted by the Nationalist government shortly after the Second World War. The government in Taiwan called the ruling “completely unacceptable” and said it was not binding”.

The piece goes on to mention how “In the wake of the ruling by the panel, which China has spent months trying to discredit, experts said Beijing could respond in a variety of ways. It could send more fighter jets to bases it is building on the disputed islets, or it could declare an air defence identification zone in part of the South China Sea, much as it did in 2013 in the East China Sea. China could also ratchet up the fight with the Philippines by carrying out dredging and reclamation work at Scarborough Shoal, one of the features close to the Philippine coast and a reef at the center of the spat between the two countries. Or China could even try to blockade Philippine marines currently stationed at one of the tiny atolls, potentially threatening a showdown with the United States, which has a mutual defense treaty with Manila”.

It continues “Experts said that China could choose to stop short of provocative action and instead take more incremental steps to signal Beijing was not backing off of its claims. Under that scenario, China would continue to build hangars on artificial islands in the Spratlys and draw boundaries or “baselines” connecting reefs and rocks it claims. That would pave the way for an eventual air defense identification zone in which China would demand all aircraft seek permission before flying into the area. China’s track record over the past few years suggests it will press on with its aggressive tactics despite the court ruling, and possibly start dredging work at Scarborough Shoal, said James Kraska, professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College”.

It notes that “Ultimately, whether China seeks to raise the stakes in the South China Sea or defuse tensions is up to Beijing’s top leaders. “The only person who knows what China’s response will be is Xi Jinping. It’s going to be his decision and nobody else’s,” said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. What is clear, experts said, is that the ruling presents Beijing with a pivotal decision: If it completely ignores the unanimous ruling, based on the Law of the Sea that China helped write and has ratified, that could put paid to the notion that China seeks to be a responsible global stakeholder. Analysts said a brusque dismissal of the award could call into question Beijing’s commitment to other aspects of international law, from the rules regulating global trade to the fight against climate change. China could become “increasingly isolated” if it continues to ignore the ruling, Kraska said. Thirty years ago, a similar international panel ruled against the United States in a case concerning the mining of harbours in Nicaragua. Washington ignored the ruling, and saw its international credibility take a big hit”.

Pointedly he mentions that “At the same time, the panel’s conclusion promises to give plenty of legal ammunition to countries like Vietnam, which has for years had its own territorial dispute with China over a different set of islands — the Paracels — in the South China Sea. Tuesday’s ruling could open the door for Hanoi to seek arbitration itself, potentially further straining relations with China that were already badly damaged two years ago after Beijing dispatched an oil rig to Vietnamese waters. The ruling, capstone to a 2013 complaint brought by the Philippines, considered three broad issues. Does China, as it maintains through its proclamation of a so-called “nine dash line,” have “historic rights” to the waters around the Spratly Islands, hundreds of miles from the Chinese coast? Do those tiny reefs and rocks actually amount to islands, which would give their owner exclusive claim to the economic resources nearby? And has China, in its rush to dredge coral atolls to build artificial islands and fence off the area from the Philippines, violated the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea? The panel found that while Chinese fishermen have in the past plied the waters around the Spratlys, that does not amount to any sort of legal claim to the resources there today”.

It reports that “The tribunal also determined that none of the features in the Spratly Islands — with names like Mischief Reef and Fiery Cross Reef — amount to actual islands. That means that, regardless of which country has sovereignty over those rocks and atolls (a question the Hague panel did not consider), they do not grant any legal entitlement to a 200-mile wide exclusive economic zone in the surrounding waters. Finally, the panel found that China had violated the Philippines’ rights in the waters off its coast, by, for example, interfering with Manila’s ability to drill for oil or fish in seas that by law belong to the Philippines. “The Tribunal therefore concluded that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights with respect to its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf,” the panel noted in its nearly-500 page ruling. The tribunal also determined that China had violated environmental provisions of the international law of the sea by tearing up coral reefs to build artificial islands. And the panel also found in the past three years China has aggravated the dispute with the Philippines due to its land reclamation campaign and aggressive and illegal behavior by Chinese ships. The panel concluded that both countries, since they ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty, are bound to comply with Tuesday’s decision”.


One Response to ““Beijing has no historic title to the huge swathe of the South China Sea””

  1. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] writes how the Philippines can fight China “The Philippine Islands has a problem. It has international law on its side in its quarrel with China over maritime territory, but no policeman walking his beat to enforce the […]

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