Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Roundtable: The Arbitral Tribunal's Ruling on the South China Sea-Implications and Regional Responses

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Roundtable: The Arbitral Tribunal's Ruling on the South China Sea-Implications and Regional Responses

Article excerpt

Three and a half years after the Philippines took the unprecedented step of challenging the legal basis of China's expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, the Arbitral Tribunal established under compulsory dispute resolution provisions contained in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and based at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, issued its final ruling on 12 July 2016.

The award was far more comprehensive and decisive than many legal experts had predicted: the Philippines won 14 of the 15 disputes under consideration. The Tribunal was not mandated to adjudicate on the sovereignty of hundreds of geographical features which make up the Spratly archipelago, but instead focused on maritime rights and entitlements in the South China Sea. The judges issued four major decisions. First, China's "historic rights" claim to living and non-living resources within the nine-dash line that appears on Chinese maps of the South China Sea is incompatible with UNCLOS. Second, that none of the Spratly features are islands entitled to a 200 nautical mile (nm) exclusive economic zone (EEZ); they are either rocks, entitled only to a 12 nm territorial sea, or low-tide elevations with no associated maritime zones. Third, that Beijing had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in its EEZ by harassing fishing boats and survey vessels, and by undertaking massive reclamation work at several Chinese-occupied features determined to be within the EEZ of the Philippines. Fourth, that China's reclamation activities had caused irreparable damage to fragile reef ecosystems, and had aggravated the dispute while legal proceedings were underway. …

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