The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) [official website] in The Hague ruled [decision, PDF; press release, PDF] Thursday that it has jurisdiction to hear a dispute between the Philippines and China over parts of the South China Sea. At issue are a number of islands and shoals in the South China Sea, which the Philippines says China has annexed illegally under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. China has long held that the PCA lacks jurisdiction [government whitepaper] to hear the case, saying that it would be open to bilateral negotiations [AP report ] with the Philippines over the issue. China has boycotted the proceedings, rejecting the court’s authority in the case. Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, maintaining that its rights are based on history rather than legal precedent.
Territorial disputes over the South China Sea have been an ongoing source of tension [JURIST op-ed] between China and its neighboring countries. China claims nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer South China Sea, a region believed to be rich in oil and minerals. China has come into territorial conflict over the region in the past, not only with the Philippines [JURIST op-ed], but also with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Philippines and China were involved in a two-month standoff [Al Jazeera report] in 2012 around the Scarborough Shoal, a small cluster of uninhabitable islands 220 km off the coast of the Philippines, which, according to international maritime law, fall into the Philippines’ economic zone. The standoff was triggered when Chinese vessels blocked the Philippine navy from arresting Chinese fishermen for alleged illegal fishing activities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones.