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The South China Sea has been a hot button topic for a while; mostly since China started building artificial islands and building airstrips on them to cement their claim over the water body. Philippines took the matter to the Permanent Court of Arbitration as China was violating their sovereign rights by blocking their fishing vessels and harming the biodiversity near the reefs.
The International Court in Hague ruled in favour of Philippines and said that China has no claims whatsoever on the sea, and hence has no right to block Philipinos from taking the full advantage of the sea waters.
The Court ruling has no effect on the Chinese Government as it has no way to enforce its own decisions except just expecting the countries to abide by it out of the goodness of their hearts. Moreover, hours before the ruling was made, Chinese officials said that they neither accept nor recognise the ruling in any way with their Foreign Ministry stating “The award is null and void and has no binding force,”.
The Courts ruled China’s claims based on their ill-defined ‘Nine-dash line’ citing historic rights as invalid, further stating that any claims it made on the South China Sea should have been made on the basis of maritime entitlements related to land features.
The tribunal also said that for any other historic rights China claims are now null and void since those areas are now a part of exclusive economic zones (EEZ) or continental shelves of other countries based on its ratification of UNCLOS (of which the US is not a part of).
The core issue for the tribunal was that China has violated the traditional fishing rights of Filipinos by not allowing them to fish at the Scarborough Shoal (which is entitled only to a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea as it is only a rock and not an inhabitated island). Conversely, the tribunal also said that it would’ve found Philippines guilty had the Chinese fishermen were prevented access to the shoal by the Philippines.
The ruling has increased international tensions as the US and other nations consider the 3 Trillion Dollar Trade route to be International Waters and International Airspace (meaning you don’t need specific permissions from any nation) to use them for trade or transport, while the Chinese claim it as rightfully theirs. It it yet to be seen what this decision will mean in the short and long term.
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