July 2016 – SOUTH CHINA SEA – China’s actions in the South China Sea violate international law and prevent other nations from exercising their rights, a court ruled Tuesday in a unanimous landmark decision that bolsters arguments by nations critical of Beijing’s military moves in the Asia-Pacific region. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of most of the Philippines’ claims against China, while determining that historical claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea — labeled “indisputable” by Beijing — had no legal justification. “There was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters of the South China Sea or prevented other States from exploiting their resources,” the tribunal wrote in a statement accompanying the 479-page ruling.
China’s state media quickly dismissed the ruling, and the Foreign Ministry repeated Beijing’s claim to the area. The court determined that all of the land in the Spratly Islands chain — where U.S. ships and aircraft have traversed in accordance under international law, despite Chinese warnings — are rocks, not islands. The court doesn’t have jurisdiction to award the rocks to any one country, as China argued when it declined to participate in the case, which the Philippines first brought to the tribunal in 2013. However, defining the land as rocks prevents China or any other country from claiming a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone around them.
Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, which China has topped with landfill and military resources, are “low-tide elevations” and not claimable as land, the court also ruled. China has constructed military-grade runways and added radar stations and self-propelled artillery to reefs throughout the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy has sailed close by these artificial islands on freedom-of-navigations operations, under Chinese protest. China’s ambiguous claims to 90 percent of the South China Sea, along with its waters and hundreds of land features — nearly of all which are too small to be called islands — conflict to some degree with claims by the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Indonesia. China’s sea claims also create conflict with positions maintained by the U.S., which insists on freedom of navigation for its ships and aircraft under international norms. About $5 trillion in trade sails through the sea annually, including $1.2 trillion in U.S. trade.
Reflecting past statements, Chinese state media said Beijing “does not accept or acknowledge” the tribunal. Chinese officials and media outlets sharply criticized the court in the week prior to the decision, with one spokesman labeling the ruling “a piece of trash” last week. Xinhua, China’s official news agency, put out a story with a headline, “Law-abusing tribunal to issue award,” about five hours before the ruling was released. Although China has ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea — which includes a clause that allows nations to abide by the ruling of the arbitral tribunal — China has repeatedly stated it would ignore the ruling.
Nevertheless, China issued a position paper online, which the court considered in its deliberations, on whether it had jurisdiction to consider the case. The court ruled in 2015 that it did have jurisdiction. The U.S. and the court have said that any decision is binding under international law, which China has also denied. –Stars and Stripes
Nationalist Chinese newspaper says to prepare for war: In joint editorials in its Chinese and English editions, the state-run Global Times said the dispute, having already been complicated by US intervention, now faces further escalation due to the threat posed by the tribunal to China’s sovereignty. “Washington has deployed two carrier battle groups around the South China Sea, and it wants to send a signal by flexing its muscles: As the biggest powerhouse in the region, it awaits China’s obedience,” it said.
China should speed up developing its military deterrence abilities, the paper added. “Even though China cannot keep up with the US militarily in the short-term, it should be able to let the US pay a cost it cannot stand if it intervenes in the South China Sea dispute by force,” it said. “China hopes disputes can be resolved by talks, but it must be prepared for any military confrontation. This is common sense in international relations.”
The newspaper is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, and while it is widely read in policy-making circles, it does not have the same mouthpiece function as its parent and its editorials cannot be viewed as representing government policy. It is also well-known for its extreme nationalist views. –ABC