An international court handed down a decision that pointed a finger at the unjustness of Beijing’s self-serving actions and statements related to its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The ruling by the Hague-based court of arbitration fully dismissed Beijing’s claims that its sovereignty covers almost all the area in the South China Sea.
Regarding the so-called nine-dash line – based on which China claims sovereignty – the arbitration court said “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights”. The court also said “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control” over the resources and waters.
The international court further concluded that China was not entitled to an exclusive economic zone for the artificial islands it has constructed in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
The ruling supported the Philippines’ appeal based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping has been increasing efforts to militarise seven artificial islands that his country has built in the South China Sea, thus heightening regional tensions. It is significant that an international organisation has rejected the premise Beijing uses for its hegemonic behavior aimed at changing the status quo.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement that the parties concerned in this case “are required to comply with the award”.
“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 emphasised. We regard his comments as a matter of course.
It is a problem that Beijing has reiterated its position of not accepting the ruling by the arbitration court, insisting that it should not handle the case. The Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement following the decision, which described it as being “void, with no binding force”.
The arbitration court cannot force parties concerned to follow its rulings. However, China is obligated to abide by the decision as a signatory country for UNCLOS.
Ignoring the ruling would only highlight China’s lawless conduct in disregarding maritime order based on the rule of law. China could not avoid becoming more isolated in the international community.
It cannot be overlooked either that Beijing conducted large-scale military exercises before the arbitration court’s ruling, in a show of its effective control over the South China Sea. Beijing is making desperate efforts to secure its maritime interests in the waters, apparently because the country aims to face off against US military influence by using the area as a base for its nuclear submarines carrying strategic missiles.
Japan, the United States and other members of the Group of Seven advanced countries should play a leading role in persistently urging China to respect the ruling.
It is also vital that the United States continues its patrol activities with the Philippines and other countries near the man-made islands to realise freedom of navigation.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly hopes to hold negotiations with China in a bid to solve the issue. It is crucial that Duterte carries on his predecessor Benigno Aquino’s policy to work with Japan and the United States for the stability of the South China Sea. We hope the Philippine president will keep this in mind.