Two days ago, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague issued a truly stunning and long-anticipated ruling in the Philippines vs. China case over the South China Sea. After three years of deliberations, initiated by the Philippines and in which China refused participation, the tribunal’s 500-page ruling dealt a knockout blow to Beijing’s expansive maritime claims. Most notably, the court ruled that China could not use its nine-dash line to claim “historic rights” to resources in the South China Sea. It also made a surprising ruling on the legal status of the land features in the Spratly Islands, judging that it is composed entirely of reefs and rocks as opposed to islands, and that none can claim more than a 12 nautical mile territorial sea. In so doing, the court effectively enclaved China’s island outposts in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, making it impossible for it to claim broad swaths of sea or the resources that lie beneath.
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