Tribunal rules in favor of the Philippines in South China Sea dispute

Courtesy of U.S. Navy

By Michael Rios

An international court has invalidated China’s territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea.


In an arbitration case initiated by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled on July 12, 2016, that China has no legal basis to claim historical rights to resources within the sea areas.


For years, China has argued that islands in the South China Sea have belonged to the country “since ancient times” and has used a demarcation line known as the nine-dash line to claim sovereignty over the area.


The court on Tuesday challenged those claims, ruling that China’s historic rights “were extinguished” as soon as China signed the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, an international agreement that defines rights over the world’s oceans.


The court ruled that UNCLOS doesn’t protect pre-existing rights to resources and that China’s claims were incompatible with coastal area rights that the convention provides. 


The Philippines first challenged China’s claims on Jan. 22, 2013, when the country served China with a Notification and Statement of Claim under Annex VII to UNCLOS. 


The Philippines argued that since China’s claims overlap with other nations’ claims to the sea, they infringe upon their own 200-mile exclusive economic zone.


On Feb. 19, 2013, China rejected and returned the Philippines’ notification and stated that it would neither participate in nor accept the arbitration. China argued that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction to consider the Philippines’ claims because those claims concerned issues of sovereignty and boundary delimitation.


The tribunal ultimately determined that it had jurisdiction to rule over several of the claims brought up by the Philippines.


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