China’s claim to the South China Sea ruled ‘Illegal’ – Hague

“There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line'”


The United Nations permanent court of arbitration in The Hague has delivered it’s highly anticipated verdict on China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea. The verdict is damning; finding that China had “no entitlement to an economic zone within 320 kilometres of Mischief Reef or Thomas Shoal” which undermines a decade of military sabre-rattling and diplomatic bullying in the region.

The court’s biggest ruling found that China’s nine-dash line policy had no foundation in international law. The nine-dash line policy (see the map below) is the foundation of China’s assertions across the region, based on a fisherman’s map from 1947 that loosely outlined historical fishing grounds. The areas that it claims across the Paracel and Spratly island chains are known to be rich sources of minerals, energy and fisheries.

The UN’s court of arbitration in the Hague was asked by the delegation of the Philippines to rule on China’s annexation of the Scarborough shoal which falls within it’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Anticipating a rise in tensions following the rulings, the US has deployed an aircraft carrier to region.

Key Points:

Of the fifteen points raised by the Philippines, the tribunal made finding on seven. The biggest points were that:

  • The creation of artificial islands such as those constructed by China do not constitute as territory that would grant 200 nautical miles of territory around them.
  • China had illegally restricted access to fisheries for Philippine fishermen.
  • China has “destroyed” large parts of the reefs to pursue its territorial assertions
  • China’s construction of a military grade air-strip on Mischief archipelago is illegal and lies within the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone


Graphic: BBC

A ruling ‘harsher’ than China expected

“Having found that certain areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone…”

China’s President Xi Jinping has been quick to downplay the court’s findings, stating that “China’s territorial sovereignty and marine rights in the South China Sea will not be affected by the so-called Philippines South China Sea ruling in any way”.  Beijing’s foreign ministry issued its own blunt reply to the UN – “we hereby solemnly state that we will definitely not accept this ruling”.

For it’s part, the Philippines are cautiously celebrating the findings which have ruled in its favour. “Our experts are studying this award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitrary outcome deserves,” said Perfecto Yasay, the Philippine Foreign Secretary. “We call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety. The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision”. Philippe Sands, a lawyer for the Philippines in the case, said it was a “clear and unanimous judgement that upholds the rule of law and the rights claimed by the Philippines”.

The most worrying finding concerns Mischief Reef on the Spratly archipelago where China’s construction of a military grade runway for fighter jets has been ruled to be illegal. The island falls within the Phillippine’s EEZ which experts worries now sets the ground for a showdown over its control.

Why is the South China Sea so important?

Previous Coverage:

Things are set to get messy. Stay tuned.

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