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Why it's so tense in the South China Sea (2018)
01:17 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Ruling could heighten friction in a region already bristling with tension

Beijing rejects validity of international tribunal and decision on territorial dispute

Hong Kong CNN  — 

An international tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a maritime dispute Tuesday, concluding China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the bulk of the South China Sea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping rejected the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which is likely to have lasting implications for the resource-rich hot spot, which sees $5 trillion worth of shipborne trade pass through each year.

“China will never accept any claim or action based on those awards,” Xi said. China had boycotted the proceedings.

The tribunal concluded that China doesn’t have the right to resources within its “nine-dash line,” which extends hundreds of miles to the south and east of its island province of Hainan and covers some 90% of the disputed waters.

China’s Ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, accused the tribunal of “professional incompetence” and “questionable integrity.” Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, he accused the United States of engaging in military exercises that constituted “military coercion.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby asserted that the United States, and the world, expect China to commit to nonmilitarization. “The world is watching to see if China is really the global power it professes itself to be, and the responsible power that it professes itself to be,” Kirby said.

Viewed as a decisive win for the Philippines, the ruling could heighten friction in a region already bristling with tension, especially if it unleashes a defiant reaction from China.

The United States, which has been at odds with China over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, urged all parties “to avoid provocative statements and actions.”

Other countries could be emboldened

The ruling doesn’t just affect China and the Philippines, but other countries that have competing claims with the nation over large areas of the sea.