July 12 marked the one-year anniversary of a United Nations tribunal ruling in a case brought by the Philippines against China over the latter’s claims and activities in the South China Sea. The ruling was a major victory for the Philippines, particularly the tribunal’s decision on China’s “nine-dash line,” through which Beijing attempts to lay claim to vast areas of the South China Sea. A year to the day after the award, the Philippines issued a conciliatory statement even as an energy official announced that Manila would soon offer investors new oil and gas blocks at Reed Bank, off the Philippine coast but within the nine-dash line.
Beijing, for its part, has always made clear that it regards the tribunal’s decision as “null and void” and of “no binding force.” Statements from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) states in the wake of the decision were muted. None urged China to adhere to the ruling; the strongest merely called for respecting international law.
Yet the impact of the decision cannot be determined by words alone. A year after the landmark award, ASEAN states appear to be more willing to assert their rights to resources in their exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and China’s behavior is now more in keeping with the tribunal’s decision.