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China’s Challenge to the Law of the Sea

Chinese leaders' refusal to accept the Permanent Court of Arbitration's rejection of their expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea paves the way to regional instability. If international law has no purchase on China, its simmering tensions with its Asian neighbors – and with the US – are bound to boil over.

BERLIN – China has been trying to bully its way to dominance in Asia for years. And it seems that not even an international tribunal in The Hague is going to stand in its way.

China has rebuffed the landmark ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which knocked the bottom out of expansive Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea and held that some of the country’s practices were in violation of international law. Recognizing that there is no mechanism to enforce the PCA’s ruling, China does not intend to give even an inch on its claims to everything that falls within its unilaterally drawn “nine-dash line.”

Clearly, China values the territorial gains – which provide everything from major oil and gas reserves to fisheries (accounting for 12% of the global catch) to strategic depth – more than its international reputation. Unfortunately, this could mean more trouble for the region than for China itself.