South China Sea: Beijing watches as The Hague ruling looms


An island outpost, one of several, being built by China in the South China Sea.
China is set to hear some major news on Tuesday, and it’s likely to have a profound impact on the busiest commercial waterway on earth.

A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, is expected to rule on a dispute between China and the Philippines, and that decision — and the responses of both those countries and others — could be one of the most significant geopolitical events in years, according to experts.

What’s happening

The Philippines brought an arbitration case in 2013 over disputes in the South China Sea, eventually lodging 15 claims against China related to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) — a critical piece of international law that both countries have ratified.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, a massive body of water that stretches about 1,200 miles from the Chinese mainland. The sea comprises a massive 1.4 million square miles and is abutted by eight countries with a combined population of about 2 billion people. Those waters handle about half of the world’s daily merchant shipping, a third of global oil shipping, two-thirds of all liquid natural gas shipments and more than a tenth of the Earth’s fish catch.