After four years of rising tensions over China's construction of military bases in the South China Sea, in July 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a landmark decision layered with meaning, academic as well as diplomatic. “China's claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction,” wrote the panel of five judges, “with respect to the maritime areas … encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line’ are contrary to the Convention [on the Law of the Sea] and without lawful effect.” Writing with unambiguous clarity, the court ruled that China's dredging of these artificial islands for military bases gave it no right whatsoever to the surrounding seas and rebuked Beijing for infringing on waters that the Philippines should rightly control. China's claims to most of the South China Sea within that nine-dash line, which Beijing first published on maps at the height of the Cold War in 1953 and has pursued ever since, “were extinguished,” the court said, by the UN Convention (Gao and Jia 2013, 103–4; New York Times 2016; Permanent Court of Arbitration 2016, 68–77, 116–17).

You do not currently have access to this content.