While there is still a significant way to go towards resolved ownership rights in the South China Sea, China’s claims to most of the region were dealt a serious blow by an international tribunal at the Hague. Based on the tribunal’s ruling, China’s claims to the “9-dash line” regions in the sea were ruled to be unfounded.
The dispute over many of the China South Sea’s shoals arose when Beijing began to aggressively chasing Filipino fishermen out of key areas, often with the threat of military force. This appeared to be in violation of specific maritime treaties signed throughout the last 50 years. In an effort to protect its own sovereignty and the rights of its fishermen, the Philippines government filed a formal objection (law suit) with the PCA in January 2013.
Over the past year, the Chinese have been developing some of the natural shoals into manmade islands, complete with airstrips, navigation technology and weaponry. This aggressive behavior began to raise the ire of not only the Filipino people, but also from ASEAN member countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan. As a key ally of the Philippines, even the United States has also been drawn into the squabble.
Even before the ruling was issued, China’s leaders made clear their country would not abide by any rulings based on China’s charge that the tribunal has no authority to make such rulings. Since the ruling was made, tensions have continued building around the Scarborough Shoal where Filipino fishermen continue to be harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard.
There is no denying this was an embarrassing outcome for Beijing. Now, they find themselves in a situation where they can continue developing the manmade islands and risk a major international conflict, or abide by the ruling as handed down and head to the bargaining table to work out some mutually beneficial agreements.