On the 12th of this month, an arbitral panel in The Hague rendered its award in the landmark case of Philippines vs. China. The decision, interpreting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, was a sweeping rebuke of Beijing’s position, invalidating its expansive “nine-dash line” claim to about 85 percent of the South China Sea.
Many are hoping that China will bring its claims into line with UNCLOS, as the UN pact is known, and some even think it has actually begun the process of doing so. Unfortunately, a series of hostile reactions in the last few days, including an implied threat to use nuclear weapons to defend its outposts in that body of water, suggest Beijing’s reaction will not be benign.
China maintains it has sovereignty to all the features—islands, rocks, and low-tide elevations—inside its now-famous dotted boundary. Five other states—Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam—also claim those features, and China’s nine-dash line impinges on the exclusive economic zone of a sixth, Indonesia.