Pacific News Minute: International Court Set to Rule on Rival Claims in the South China Sea

Apr 21, 2016

Credit Tadashi Mori / Flickr

Sometime in the next few weeks, an international court that few people have ever heard of is expected to issue a ruling that could ratchet up tensions in the South China Sea.  We have more on Philippines VS. China and the International Tribunal of the Permanent court of Arbitration from Neal Conan, in the Pacific News Minute.

For simplicity, let's call the court the PCA. The panel of five judges sits in The Hague to arbitrate disputes among the signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Under That treaty, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have claims in one of two island groups in the South China Sea...the Spratleys and the Paracels.

China's case is based on history. Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, as the domain of Chinese sailors back to the Ming Dynasty… and by the way, on this, and maybe on this alone, both China's agree, Taiwan makes the same claim. Of course Mainland China has enormous power to back up its argument. Over the last few years, China has pushed its rivals out of some areas and built up tiny specks of rock into artificial islands, complete with ports and airfields.

The case before the PCA involves a charge by the Philippines that China seized two areas in its part of the Spratleys...Scarborough Shoal and the aptly named Mischief Reef.  China does not recognize the jurisdiction of the PCA and says it has no obligation to abide by any ruling.  But if as expected, The Philippines wins, China is expected to reinforce its claim to sovereignty with what's called an Air Defense Identification Zone, which would further antagonize its neighbors, and almost certainly be challenged by the United States.