The Game of Zones: Court rejects Chinese claims


China's maritime claims and bases built or under construction by Bejing, via the Yomiuri Shimbun.

China’s maritime claims and bases built or under construction by Bejing, via the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Tensions in the Game of Zones underway in the China Seas intensified today with a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration said there declared China has not right to control islands where the Asian economic giant has been constructing military bases and surrounding ocean waters.

The ruling by the court in the Hague is certain to provoke further military confrontations with the U.S., the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan.

Given that the Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on a policy of rapid remilitarization and plans to strike the pacifist provisions of its post-World War II constitution we can be assured of one thing: Danger and crisis lie ahead.

From BBC News:

The ruling came from an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which both countries have signed.

It ruled on seven of 15 points brought by the Philippines. Among the key findings were:

  • Fishermen from the Philippines and China both had fishing rights around the disputed Scarborough Shoal area, and China had interfered by restricting access
  • China had “destroyed evidence of the natural condition of features in the South China Sea” that formed part of the dispute
  • Transient use of features above water did not constitute inhabitation – one of the key conditions for claiming land rights of 200 nautical miles, rather than the 12 miles granted for rocks visible at high tide.

The ruling is binding but the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no powers of enforcement.

More from the New York Times:

The landmark case, brought by the Philippines, was seen as an important crossroads in China’s rise as a global power. It is the first time the Chinese government has been summoned before the international justice system, and the decision against it could provide leverage to other neighboring countries that have their own disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

“It’s an overwhelming victory. We won on every significant point,” said the Philippines’ chief counsel in the case, Paul S. Reichler. “This is a remarkable victory for the Philippines.”

But while the decision is legally binding, there is no mechanism for enforcing it, and China, which refused to participate in the tribunal’s proceedings, reiterated on Tuesday that it would not abide by it. “The award is invalid and has no binding force,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “China does not accept or recognize it.”

The foreign secretary of the Philippines, Perfecto Yasay, said Manila welcomed the decision as “significant” and called on “all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.”

A harsh rebuke for China, provocations inevitable

The ruling was harsh, a strong rebuke for China’s claims.

Beijing has invested millions, possibly billions, in developed bases and facilities for exercising its control over waters wise in fish and a seabed believed to contain extensive mineral and petroleum resources.

The Guardian offers it’s take on the ruling:

The ruling will make grim reading for Beijing and contains a series of criticisms of China’s actions and claims. The tribunal declared that “although Chinese navigators and fishermen, as well as those of other states, had historically made use of the islands in the South China Sea, there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.

“The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.”

None of the fiercely disputed Spratly Islands, the UN body found, were “capable of generating extended maritime zones … [and] having found that none of the features claimed by China was capable of generating an exclusive economic zone, the tribunal found that it could — without delimiting a boundary — declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.”

There’s a lot more, after the jump, including reaction from Beijing, Tokyo, and Washington. . .

Beijing reacts with strong words

The Beijing government’s response was both dismissive and angry.

From the official Sina news agency:

China said Tuesday it neither accepts nor recognizes the award of an arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration established at the request of the Philippines.

“The award is null and void and has no binding force,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards. China opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on those awards, according to the statement.

And the president of China declared he has no intention of either recognizing or obeying the tribunal’s diktat.

From People’s Daily:

Chinese President Xi Jinping said China will not accept any proposition or action based on the decision Tuesday by the South China Sea arbitral tribunal.

Xi said the South China Sea Islands have been China’s territory since ancient times. China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests in South China Sea, in any circumstances, will not be affected by the award.

He made the remarks on Tuesday afternoon while meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Beijing.

The Obama administration does the expected

The administration of President Barack Obama has been engaged in a relentless economic and military effort to contain the Asian economic giant, selling arms to former enemy Vietnam, pushing Japan to rearm, and back the Philippine claims.

Obama’s “Asian pivot” has concentrated greater military power in the regin, reversing the old balance which placed the largest assignments of navy ships in the Atlantic.

In addition, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, relentless pushed by the administration, is an effort to control Chinese economic power.

Washington’s reaction to the ruling was predictable.

From Reuters:

The United States, which China has accused of fuelling tensions and militarizing the region with patrols and exercises, urged parties to comply with the legally binding ruling and avoid provocations.

“The decision today by the Tribunal in the Philippines-China arbitration is an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

U.S. officials have previously said they feared China may respond to the ruling by declaring an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea, as it did in the East China Sea in 2013, or by stepping up its building and fortification of artificial islands.

As expected, Japan hails the decision

The word from Tokyo was predictable, given Japan’s own claims to the region.

But the decision also was greeted by the Japanese military with an aggressive stancde.

From the Japan Times:

Japan, meanwhile, has long voiced its concern over China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea, fearing that China could control the trade routes that are the arteries through which the lifeblood of much of the Japanese economy pumps.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida reiterated Tuesday that Tokyo has “consistently advocated the importance of the rule of law and the use of peaceful means, not the use of force or coercion, in seeking settlement of maritime disputes.”

“Japan strongly expects that the parties’ compliance with this award will eventually lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea,” Kishida said in a statement.

Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said that the Self-Defense Forces would closely monitor Chinese activity in the neighboring East China Sea after the ruling.

“We urge all parties concerned to react in a way that does not raise tensions,” Nakatani told a briefing in Tokyo. “We will keep a close watch on the situation in the East China Sea,” he added.

One thing is certain,: The waters of the China Seas are about to get a lot hotter.

Call it global warming of another sort.

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