An old idea helps Beijing assert a new territorial claim in the South China Sea


Just a year short of its 70th birthday, the South China Sea’s infamous U-shaped broken line faces its biggest challenge, writes Lisa Murray.

If an island can be proven habitable a nation can substantially expand it’s claim to surrounding territorial waters. A People’s Liberation Army soldier poses in the vegetable gardens on Firey Island Reef.
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by Lisa Murray
Philippine government officials refer to it as “the Berlin Wall of the Sea”, in Vietnam it is known as the “cow’s tongue” and across the rest of the world it is called the “nine-dash line.”

Just a year short of its 70th birthday, this infamous U-shaped broken line, which China uses as a territorial marker to claim the bulk of the South China Sea, faces its biggest challenge.

An arbitration court in the Netherlands is currently deciding whether the nine-dash line violates international law.

The ruling, expected within months, could also classify certain features in the disputed waters as islands or rocks (which has big implications for how much territory can be claimed) and determine whether China’s recent construction activities in the area – building air strips, ports and storage facilities on top of reefs – is against the law.

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