Another Country joins the fray in the South China Sea

By Sean Assad

The South China Sea is an important and strategic area as well as one of the most tense areas of the world. It sees $5 trillion in shipborne trade every year, and also has major fishing and energy resources. China claims most of this territory despite parts of the the sea being claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, which has led to intense territorial disputes. These disputes garnered intense international attention in 2016 when the a decision was made in the Philippines’ 2013 case against China by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). China had claimed historic rights to the territory but they were only valid if they accorded with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement of which China is a party. The PCA found that there was “no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the nine dash line” because the UNCLOS takes precedence over historic rights. China had refused to recognize the ruling at that time and they continue to operate in the South China Sea.

The United States maintains that naval vessels should be able to pass through the waters around the islands occupied by China the same as other international waters. A concept know as freedom of navigation, which the 2016 PCA ruling seemed to encourage. However, China continues to resist such moves and considers it an act to stir up trouble. Now the UK has joined the dispute with the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stating that the newly made British aircraft carriers would be sent to the South China Sea on a freedom of navigation operation. While China’s reaction was unsurprisingly against such a move, the fact remains that international law is on the side of the US and UK. Putting pressure on China is one of the steps that the international community should be taking to uphold the rules-based international system of the UNCLOS and the decision of the PCA. In addition, opportunities should be sought out for constructive collaboration with China on issues of mutual concern for the South China Sea and other areas of the world in order to foster cooperation and adherence to international law.


James Griffiths, UK wants to send ‘colossal’ warships to test Beijing’s claims in S. China Sea, CNN (July 28, 2017), available at (last visited July 29, 2017).

J.P., Why a tribunal has ruled against China on the South China Sea, THE ECONOMIST (July 13, 2016), available at (last visited July 29, 2017).

Thomas Kellog, The South China Sea Ruling: China’s International Law Dilemma, THE DIPLOMAT (July 14, 2016), available at (last visited July 29, 2017).

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