In the end, the verdict delivered was much clearer than had been expected by most observers. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague had dealt with the case since 2013, involving the extensive expansion of artificial islands by China, the protests by neighboring countries like the Philippines, the collisions between fishing boats and naval vessels.
The judges had to go through around 4,000 pages of evidence before issuing their ruling in this immensely complex case.
The main findings: Contrary to many analysts’ expectations, the tribunal also tackled the issue of the so-called “nine-dash line,” which the Chinese government uses to outline the scope of its claims in the South China Sea.
The court’s unequivocal verdict: There are no legal grounds for China to claim historical rights over the waters. The judges also made clear that Beijing is not entitled to a 200-nautical mile (370 kilometers) exclusive economic zone surrounding the Spratly Islands.
Furthermore, they ruled that some of the artificial islands built by China are in direct violation of the Philippines’ sovereignty. That means, from Chinese perspective, the ruling is an absolute “worst case” scenario.
China will not yield
The key question is: what happens now? China’s initial response to the verdict was in line with what most observers expected. The ruling was “a political farce,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
President Xi Jinping said his country would not tolerate any actions that are taken on the basis of the Hague court’s decision.
The good news is that there were also voices of moderation. Xi also said that China would work for peace and stability in the region, and would engage in peaceful negotiations to resolve the issues.
Following the ruling, the Philippines also called for restraint and sobriety.
But the problem is that it is totally unclear how a deal between the two sides could look like.
It’s highly unlikely that China will backtrack on its territorial claims, given that Beijing has made its position so clear on the issue. A solution to the conflict therefore appears further than ever a day after the international court’s verdict.
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