Tribunal case is far more than just a matter of rocks and reefs


A tribunal convened by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague will hand down its judgment Tuesday (July 12) in a case the Philippines lodged challenging China’s claims in the South China Sea.

The case, seemingly a banal dispute over rocks and reefs, has far-reaching implications.

What’s at stake?

The 3.5 million sq km South China Sea is critical to the world’s economy and regional security.

Each year, some US$5 trillion in ship-borne goods pass through these waters, also believed to hold oil and gas reserves.

China is claiming “indisputable sovereignty” over two-thirds of the South China Sea, with its claims overlapping those of Asean states Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei as well as Taiwan.

Two years ago, China began to reclaim land on the reefs it occupies and place military installations on them.

While not the first claimant to do so – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have air strips and troops on isles they control – it has reclaimed 17 times more land in 20 months than the other claimants have done combined.

The United States is concerned that China is seeking to extend its reach nearer to US military fortifications in the Pacific, while China believes that challenges to its claims are part of the US’ policy to contain its rise as a rival power in Asia.

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