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Q. South China Sea dispute: Comment on recent judgement by international tribunal in The Hague about South China Sea dispute.
Jul 12, 2016 Related to : GS Paper-1 and 2

Ans :


The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among countries like China, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei etc. Non-claimants want the South China Sea to remain as international waters, with the United States conducting freedom of navigation operations.

The tribunal in the Hague Judgement-

Recently the tribunal (Permanent Court of Arbitration) in The Hague has effectively thrown out China's "nine dash line" which asserts the country's claim to most of the South China Sea. The tribunal found that such historical claims - in China's case going back hundreds of years - are superseded by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.


  • China has built several artificial islands in Philippines water of South China Sea, which has affected smaller nation's fishing and petroleum exploration.
  • After years of diplomatic negotiations ended nowhere, Philippines challenged it in an international tribunal in The Hague in 2013.
  • China claims by far the largest portion of territory - an area defined by the "nine-dash line" which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province.
  • China, which demands one-on-one talks to resolve the disputes, had boycotted the case and vowed to ignore the verdict.

Impact of the judgement-

  • The ruling of the tribunal is legally binding on China and the Philippines. Though due to lack of enforcement mechanism China may ignore the tribunal decision, but gives Philippines to raise the issue at international forum.
  • The ruling that invalidated China’s claims under UNCLOS, would be a major blow to Beijing and a moral victory that could be harnessed by the Philippines to its advantage.
  • Now Philippines will work with other major countries to demand Chinese compliance in diplomatic forums worldwide, including before the United Nations.
  • If it doesn’t comply, China risks being seen as a rogue nation at a time it expands its political and economic influence on the world stage.
  • If China continues to enforce its nine-dash territorial lines as its national boundary, it may result into tensions in the areas. The major countries like USA would intensify its patrols to promote freedom of navigation, China would try to push the Americans back and the claimants engage in an arms race.


The disputes in the South China Sea are pending since long. The recent ruling on the South China Sea disputes by the tribunal at The Hague is bound to mark a definitive moment in the evolution of international maritime law and Asia’s geopolitical order. Now major countries including international forums need to force China to respect for international law and abide by the tribunal ruling. Ruling also highlights India’s own stakes in promoting peace and stability in the contested waters of the South China Sea.

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