The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague has handed the United States a unique opportunity to rally opposition to China’s designs in the South China Sea and to preserve a regional order defined by rules rather than might. While the world will watch China’s next moves, the ruling tests Washington as much as Beijing.
The court’s decision could hardly be more sweeping. It found that China illegally seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012. China’s claim to historical control over the South China Sea is also exposed as baseless. Even if there were any evidence for such claims, they were superseded by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which Beijing is a party. The decision reads as an utter rejection of China’s assertions and its maritime activity in the area.