The growing tensions in the South China Sea just got more tense. A tribunal in the Hague has ruled that there is no legal basis for China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. With a huge investment in the construction of artificial islands, China has responded by simply dismissing the arbitration ruling on international law. China boycotted the proceedings before the five-member panel from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands. Many felt that the boycott reflected the weakness of the Chinese claims, which were unanimously rejected by the panel. Immediately after the ruling, China issued a statement that said that China “solemnly declares that the award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it.”
The ruling supports countries like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines which have long objected to the Chinese construction and claims. It is also a vindication of the position of the Obama Administration that has continued to challenge China in the area.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the tribunal’s decision is “final and legally binding” and that the two sides should comply with it. He said in a statement that “Japan strongly expects that the parties’ compliance with this award will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea.”
Yet, the other countries in the area now have legal support for their continued confrontations with China over the area. Notably, the panel specifically denounced China for building a large artificial island on Mischief Reef and noted that the construction caused “permanent irreparable harm” to the coral reef ecosystem and permanently destroyed natural conditions.
The question is now how far China will go in the ongoing confrontations without the benefit of a viable legal claim. Notably, China is accused of sinking a Filipino fishing boat as this ruling was released in the Hague.