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China's South China Sea Claims Dashed by Hague Court Ruling

  • Court rules against China’s efforts to control South China Sea
  • China says ruling is null and void and won’t respect it

China’s prestige as a rising global power suffered a blow as an international tribunal said its efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law.

The ruling is a rebuff to years of Chinese activity in the waterway. Under President Xi Jinping, China has built a web of artificial islands with runways and lighthouses. It has shooed away planes and ships from other nations, and its coast guard has clashed with fishing boats. At the heart of Xi’s actions is a bid to restore China to great power status and push back against decades of U.S. influence.

China boycotted the process and dismissed the ruling. The outcome may empower other claimant states and undercut Xi’s efforts to present China as a responsible player on the world stage. The risk is it now hardens its stance over a waterway that hosts about $5 trillion of trade a year and is a link for global energy shipments.

Statement of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs pic.twitter.com/s40RAN3K2i

— DFA Spokesperson (@dfaspokesperson)

“There was no evidence that China has historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources,” the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said Tuesday in a statement. As such there was no legal basis for the country’s claim, it said.

The ruling went beyond what analysts had expected, and prompted an immediate response from Beijing.

‘The Worst’

"The ruling is as bad as was possible," Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-run Global Times, wrote in a Weibo post. "This is the worst, the most extreme version of several possible scenarios."

The case was brought by the Philippines, arguing that China’s claims of historic rights don’t comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. While the court says the ruling is binding, it lacks a mechanism for enforcement. China’s assertions are based on a 1947 map showing vague dashes -- known as the nine-dash line -- that cover about 80 percent of the waterway.

For a QuickTake explaining China’s territorial disputes, click here.

China’s options for...


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