Tuesday 21 June, 2016 Update: South China Sea

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The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to hand down its ruling in the Philippines case against the People’s Republic of China regarding the PRC’s claims in the South China Sea any day now. Regardless of which way the decision goes, it will have far reaching consequences for the entire region. It can potentially resolve some of the key issues at the center of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, or bring about an increase of tensions between the US and China. Ahead of the decision, Beijing, and Washington have been jockeying for position.

China refuses to recognize the court proceedings and has stated it will not be bound by any decision the court makes. China has been amassing support for its position, claiming to have the backing of sixty nations. Beijing is also continuing to assert itself at sea while the court finalizes its ruling. On Friday, Chinese fishing boats violated Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off of the Natuna Islands. Indonesian naval vessels fired warning shots and held the crew of one of the fishing boats. China claims the boats were in its traditional fishing grounds. It is the third such incident between China and Indonesia since March.

The United States has been on its own diplomatic offensive in the region, establishing the foundation for what it hopes will be a unified international response to the court’s decision. Washington’s intent is to render the “nine-dash” line invalid. Beijing has used the obscure marker to claim the bulk of the South China Sea as territorial waters. US actions in the region have not been confined to the diplomatic arena. Over the past weekend, a joint training operation including two carrier strike groups was conducted in the Philippine Sea. The arrival and presence of a large number of US warships in the area served as reassurance for America’s allies in the region and a message of deterrence for any nation intent on destabilizing the area.

Clearly, the exercise served as a warning shot across Beijing’s bow. An unsubtle reminder there will be consequences for any action it takes following the ruling in The Hague.

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