China is not happy about Tuesday’s ruling at The Hague, which stated that its de facto expropriation of islands throughout the South China Sea is illegal. The Annex VII Tribunal situated at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled that China’s 9-dash line is “incompatible” with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that there was “no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line.’”
The ruling raises a host of questions – for China, for the Philippines (which brought the action against China to the PCA), and for the other nations bordering the South China Sea, which also have ongoing disputes with Beijing on the same subject. Beijing has dismissed the proceedings as a “political farce,” and “a trap set by the U.S. to maintain its dominance in the Asia-Pacific region.” From the beginning it has sought to legitimize its de facto expropriation of the islands based on purportedly centuries-old maps which only it views as the current (and sole) law of the sea.
Virtually all of the world’s other nations operate under UNCLOS, which came into effect in 1994 and defines nations’ rights and responsibilities with regard to the use of the world’s oceans, and for which 167 nations and the 27 nations of EU subscribe (including China, which was one of the first nations to sign the Convention in 1982 — on the very first day it became a legal instrument).
China predicates its ‘9-dash line’ claim over most of the South China Sea despite the fact that it enthusiastically signed into UNCLOS, which precisely prevents a state from invoking historical rights (save for areas which are ‘internal waters’). The South China Sea in its entirety clearly does not fit that definition. ‘Internal waters’ and ‘territorial waters’ do not extend beyond 12 nautical miles from a coastline for any coastal state.