July 12, 2016, otherwise, may not have any special claim in history, but it will surely be remembered for the historic judgement by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Tribunal on the South China Sea Dispute, upholding a rule-based maritime order anchored in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also called the Law of the Sea Convention, that defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources, and the perfidy of China for rejecting a legal judgement. The PCA Tribunal had nullified Chinese claims on practically the whole of South China Sea and its so-called historical rights and 9-dash line, pointing out that Beijing had no entitlement to an exclusive zone within 200 miles of the Spratly Islands. The judgement also indicted Beijing for destroying marine ecology and environment by establishing artificial islands and militarizing them for bolstering its claims. The PCA ruling is undoubtedly a victory of a 21st century rules-based order over China’s 19th-century plans for its own sphere of influence.
By rejecting so many of the assumptions that underpinned Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, the tribunal has put it on the spot. If China further continues occupying reefs and developing them into potential military bases-a process that has accelerated since 2014- it will be acting outside the bounds of international law, and UNCLOS, of which it is a signatory. In a bid to nullify the international tribunal’s verdict China’s Supreme Court (SPC) soon issued a regulation reaffirming the country’s jurisdiction over its territorial seas warning foreigners of criminal liability for violations of its sovereignty, trying to provide a false legal cover to China’s maritime claims over almost all of the South China Sea.