Parting the South China Sea

How to Uphold the Rule of Law

Repo men: Chinese soldiers standing guard in the Spratly Islands, February 2016  STRINGER / REUTERS

July 12, 2016, marked a turning point in the long-standing disputes over the South China Sea. After more than three years of proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international body in The Hague, a tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) issued a widely anticipated decision in a case the Philippines brought in 2013 to challenge China’s maritime claims to most of the contested waterway.

Many observers had expected the tribunal to rule in Manila’s favor. They’d also expected China to reject the tribunal’s decision, since Beijing, a signatory to the convention, has long opposed the proceedings and had warned that it would not abide by the judgment. But few anticipated a ruling as definitive as the one ultimately handed down. The tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines on almost every count, declaring nearly all of China’s maritime claims

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