The South China Sea is a lucrative area: it facilitates about USD $5 trillion worth of trade each year, and contains ample oil & gas as well as fishery resources. Therefore, it is no surprise that China is eager to expand into this region which it regards part of its "historically traditional fishing grounds" (the so-called nine-dash line). However, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not recognize such "historically traditional fishing grounds". As China has continued to expand its military operations as well as fishing activities in the area there have been a series of incidents related to territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China and several of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as Japan.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to rule in favor of the Philippines. However, Chinese authorities already stated that they do not recognize the Den Haag-based tribunal and will therefore ignore the ruling that is expected to be issued today. Ignoring the tribunal could further raise tensions in the region. Basically, the case is up to China: will it seek diplomacy and peaceful cooperation or continue confrontations with its neighbors. However, China has already said interference of third parties will only exacerbate the tensions in the South China Sea.

While China is estimated to have ramped up annual military spending nearly three-fold in the last decade to USD $215 billion (including for military expansion in the South China Sea), other nations are also boosting spending on military operations in an effort to curtail China's presence in the sea. For example, Indonesia recently raised its 2016 defense budget by 9 percent for spending on upgrades to military facilities on and near the Natuna Islands where Chinese fishing boats were caught fishing illegally (while China says the boats were within the nine-dash line). To show his commitment to defend Indonesia's territory, Indonesian President Joko Widodo held a cabinet meeting aboard a warship in the waters around Natuna, a strong message that Indonesia will stand tall against China's territorial claims. Widodo also ordered an intensification of offshore oil exploration in the gas-rich waters around the Natuna Islands.

Meanwhile, Malaysia ordered new warships and is also eager to expand oil drilling platforms within the South China Sea in response to China's claims. Vietnam purchased submarines from Russia. Furthermore, the USA plans to deploy forces to five Philippine military bases to support US surveillance efforts. China sees US involvement in the region as an act of provocation, aimed at igniting regional rivalries.

Do you agree with the tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines?

Voting possible:  -


  • Yes, China's territorial claims in the South China Sea are wrong (86.3%)
  • I don't know (8.2%)
  • No, China's nine-dash line is correct (5.5%)

Total amount of votes: 73