From showing military muscle to shameless propaganda, China has made it quite clear who they think the South China Sea belongs to. Unfortunately for them, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Tribunal within the Permanent Court of Arbitration in Hague holds a different opinion.
In an unanimous ruling against China, the court stated that China’s broad claim over the South China Sea has no legal basis.
Prior to the release of the ruling, China referred to the arbitration as “unjust” and merely “a piece of scrap paper.” Directly after the ruling, here was their response:
— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) July 12, 2016
Meanwhile, this image from the People’s Daily, saying that not an inch of Chinese territory will be taken away, has begun circulating around on WeChat:
Asserting China’s stance at the Nuclear Security Summit in March, President Xi Jinping said, “China will maintain its sovereignty and rights in the South China Sea. We hope to resolve conflicts with negotiations to ensure peace and stability in the region.”
At the same time, while awaiting the Hague ruling, its neighbors have pointed to surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets being stockpiled on the artificial islands that China claims not to be militarizing.
Like many other countries, China is using history to justify their claim on essentially the entire South China Sea. Li Guoqian, Deputy Director of Chinese Frontier Research at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, said, “China laid its foundation in the South China Sea 2,000 years ago and we have been working hard to maintain the place and utilize it peacefully,” Souhu reports.
China’s legal claim on the islands originates from the “nine-dash line,” which was first published on the maps by the Republic of China in 1947 and later accepted by the PRC in 1949. The waterway contained inside this line now carries $5 trillion (33.4 trillion RMB) in trade and supplies 10% of global fisheries, Reuters reports.
Last year, the Philippines filed a case against China’s claim using the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), a law that both the Philippines and China have signed. It dictates that nations have an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) 200 nautical miles (370 km) from their shores. China’s “nine-dash line” claim overlaps with the EEZ of multiple countries.
The case marks the first time that an international court has decided on overlapping territorial sea disputes. China has rejected all the court’s proceedings and has not cooperated in the case, asking the Philippines to reject the Hague court’s decision as well, as a basis for future talks over the disputed area.
On the day prior to the ruling, Chinese state media lambasted the arbitration and Western forces they believe to be driving the ruling, even publishing some scathing political cartoons. The People’s Daily writes that:
[The arbitration] a ruse against China which was instigated and manipulated by the United States, initiated by the Philippines, and with cooperation from the arbitral tribunal.
By abusing the compulsory arbitration procedures, the Philippines and arbitral tribunal have eroded the authority of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Its damage to the UNCLOS and impact on the international legal order should not be underestimated.
Another article accused Western countries of having a “double standard” by only agreeing with the law when it’s in their favor and slammed the US for preserving its “regional hegemony.”
Apparently, China does not stand alone in this mess. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang declared that around 70 countries, such as Cambodia, Angola, Liberia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Senegal have announced their support for China and will not support the arbitration court’s decision.
Which of course, was just announced. Let’s check it out in more detail…
— GreatFire.org (@GreatFireChina) July 12, 2016
Hague tribunal decision on China's claims in the South China Sea comes out and suddenly I can't search anything on Weibo.
— Josh Chin 李肇华 (@joshchin) July 12, 2016
… sorry, technical difficulties.
Previously, China claimed that the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction in this matter and that the arbitration was unilaterally initiated by Philippines. The Tribunal formally responded:
In the event of a dispute as to whether a court or tribunal has jurisdiction, the matter shall be settled by decision of that court or tribunal.
[A]bsence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings.
In regarded to the “nine-dash line,” they stated:
China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the South China Sea, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the Convention.
There was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.
The Tribunal went even further to assert that “China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone” when they “interfered with fishing and petroleum exploration,” “constructed artificial islands” and “failed to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone.”
Though the decision is heavily against them, China will be legally bound to the decision, writes Chinese law scholar Jerome A Cohen, who argues that China ratified Unclos and is thereby bound to a third-party determination.
Your move, China.
— Angus Nicholson (@ANicholson_IG) July 12, 2016