A Hague-based international tribunal dealt Beijing a serious blow this morning by ruling that China’s territorial claims throughout the South China Sea largely have no legal basis.
Previously, Beijing maintained that it had a legal right to lay territorial claim to almost the entirety of the sea through its so-called nine-dash line. The nine-dash line extended throughout the South China Sea and cut through the territorial claims of other nations in the region, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
The following map, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), explains the territorial rulings within the South China Sea — and how the ruling has fiercely undercut Beijing’s claims in the region.
China previously claimed nearly the entirety of the South China Sea through the nine-dash line. However, the ruling of the tribunal has effectively invalidated that position. Additionally, the tribunal has ruled on the legal and maritime traits of the individual features throughout the South China Sea.
To the greater chagrin of China, AMTI notes, the tribunal found that “none of the Spratlys, including the largest natural features … are legally islands because they cannot sustain a stable human community or independent economic life. As such, they are entitled only to territorial seas, not EEZs or continental shelves.”
“Of the seven Spratlys occupied by China, the court ruled that Johnson Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, and Gaven Reef are rocks, while Hughes Reef and Mischief Reef are below water at high-tide and therefore generate no maritime entitlements of their own,” AMTI writes.
Altogether, these rulings invalidate the nine-dash line and limit China’s territorial claims within the sea, in the eyes of international law, to the much-diminished territorial seas that rocks generate — only 12 nautical miles around each rock.
In sum, the tribunal has negated nearly the entirety of Beijing’s territorial claims to the region. However, whether or not the ruling will halt China’s activities in the region remains to be seen.
For its part, China’s Foreign Ministry has said that it “neither accepts nor recognizes” the ruling.