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The Philippines vs. China: South China Sea Case Means Nothing
Sadly, this is true. On July 12th, the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, ruled on all 15 counts presented by the Philippine government, that China has no legal right to any of its false claims that the South China Sea is theirs. It ruled that China’s “nine-dash line” was void. The "nine-dash line" is China’s purported historical boundary that covers about 85 percent of the South China Sea, including 80 percent of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea.
In a nutshell, the Court ruled that everything that China has done and is doing to them now (increasing their size, creating ports and airbases, installing radar detection and surface to air defenses) is illegal because the shoals and reefs belong to the Philippines. Other disputed reefs and shoals do not allow China the benefit to claim them because they are underwater most of the time.
So, the Philippines has won the legal argument. The problem is it means nothing to China. They have said they do not respect, nor will adhere to the ruling. They claim the Court is without jurisdiction to even hear the case and that the U.N is meddling into agreements between two countries, which of course, is false. In essence, like a thief, China has claimed that 85% of the Philippines’ territorial waters in the South China Sea is theirs. This area is legally within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The reason for China’s claim is the reported vast undersea oil and natural gas deposits that are undeveloped, some say these equal to all the oil under Saudi Arabia.
China is preparing for the future. It will no doubt begin development once they have military assets able to defend the rigs needed for drilling. China has already been very public about their position and what they will do if the United States or other countries attempt to push back. China has warned the USA about being so resolute about defending the rights of the Philippines, which has a defense pact with. In essence, China has said, if the USA wants conflict, no problem. China is not going to stop their development of the reefs they are turning into military bases. There is no reverse for them after losing face legally in front of the World.
However, the Philippines’ president, Duterte, has already stated his forces will not fight China. And, he really does not like the USA, overall. Duterte is a lawyer himself and more likely to make a deal with China. Perhaps, allow China to develop the oil\gas areas in exchange for infrastructure improvements, more trade and such, to improve the quality of life. Already, he mentioned about how a railroad may be built in the Philippines by China. One can foresee how some economic deal between them occurs so that the Philippines reaps revenue from allowing China to develop the gas and oil fields.
China knows it can manipulate with its clout economically now. It can get what it wants and bully nations softly without military force. The unknown is the USA. With China’s stand already stated while the American position is more murky. If China acts like a military occupying force in the South China Sea restricting maritime transit, the U.S. would not allow this and confrontation would occur. However, if China makes agreements with the Philippines, then, the U.S. is in a more difficult position and the defense pact rather moot. It would even worse if Duterte told the USA to not interfere with Philippine-China agreements that might also impact maritime transit through the area. And then, would the USA actually allow a conflict to develop in the region?
A lot depends on the current U.S. President. The bottom line for the USA is: Is the South China Sea a real American interest worth fighting for?