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Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Paradox at the Heart of the South China Sea Ruling

The Paradox at the Heart of the South China Sea Ruling

What looked like a huge defeat for China may actually play into Beijing's hands.
On July 12, an arbitration tribunal at The Hague delivered what is widely regarded as a landmark ruling on the maritime territorial dispute between the Philippines and China. Among many breathtaking findings, the tribunal declared China’s so-called “nine-dash line” invalid. It also concluded that none of the Spratly Islands — not even Itu Aba (Taiping Island), the largest naturally formed feature — are capable of generating an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf of their own.
On their face, these decisions, which rejected every argument that China made, drastically reduce China’s maritime rights in the Spratly chain of the South China Sea; international observers have almost unanimously described the ruling as an overwhelming victory for Manila, a heavy defeat for Beijing, and a game changer for Asian maritime disputes. But so far, the award hasn’t changed the underlying dynamics of regional politics in the South China Sea, and ASEAN, a powerful southeast Asian body, refrained from commenting on the award following a meeting, a move widely seen as the result of arm-twisting from Beijing. In fact, it is becoming clear that the tribunal’s finding was so sweeping that it is paradoxically less likely to have any real-world impact.

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