South China Sea

Tribunal Rejects Beijing’s Claims in South China Sea
The New York Times - July 12, 2016

BEIJING — An international tribunal in The Hague delivered a sweeping rebuke on Tuesday of China’s behavior in the South China Sea, including its construction of artificial islands, and found that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis.

The landmark case, brought by the Philippines, was seen as an important crossroads in China’s rise as a global power and in its rivalry with the United States, and it could force Beijing to reconsider its assertive tactics in the region or risk being labeled an international outlaw. It was the first time the Chinese government had been summoned before the international justice system.

In its most significant finding, the tribunal rejected China’s argument that it enjoys historic rights over most of the South China Sea. That could give the governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam more leverage in their own maritime disputes with Beijing.

The tribunal also said that China had violated international law by causing "irreparable harm" to the marine environment, endangering Philippine ships and interfering with Philippine fishing and oil exploration.

But while the decision is legally binding, there is no mechanism for enforcing it, and China, which refused to participate in the tribunal’s proceedings, reiterated on Tuesday that it would not abide by it.

Click on the reports to read more on the South China Sea arbitration by CNA experts.

News Coverage of CNA Experts

The experts at CNA are often asked to comment on issues in the news. The views expressed in these articles are their own.

CNA Senior Vice President Mark Rosen, JD, LLM, and Senior Fellow RADM Michael McDevitt weigh in on the tribunal decision on the South China Sea:

March 6, 2017

The Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2017 publishes "U.S. International Oceans Law and Policy Interests in the South China Sea Arbitration: Implications for the U.S. Administration in the South China Sea and Elsewhere" by Mark Rosen

February 21, 2017

The Diplomat quotes RADM Michael McDevitt in "A Recipe for Disaster in the South China Sea"

January 25, 2017

CSIS publishes In the Wake of Arbitration: Papers from the Sixth Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference with a chapter on "U.S. South China Sea Policy 2015-2016: The Growing Role of the Defense Department" by RADM Michael McDevitt

December 7, 2016

IPP Review publishes "Get China to Negotiate with SCS Neighbors: A Message to Trump" by Mark Rosen

December 1, 2016

CSIS releases video of the China Power debate featuring RADM Michael McDevitt speaking on "Current Trends in Chinese Power and Their Implications for Regional Security"

November 16, 2016

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission quotes Mark Rosen in its 2016 Annual Report (pg. 195)

November 15, 2016

Voice of Vietnam mentions RADM Michael McDevitt in "Settling East Sea Disputes by Legal and Peaceful Means"

October 25, 2016

The Washington Post quotes RADM Michael McDevitt in "Philippines’ Duterte Threatens to Throw Out U.S. Troops"

October 21, 2016

IPP Review publishes "Elements of a South China Sea Deal: Saving Face and Making Money" by Mark Rosen

September 12, 2016

CIMSEC published "China’s Reactions to the Arbitration Ruling Will Lead It into Battles It Won’t Win, Part II" by Mark Rosen

September 6, 2016

CIMSEC published "China’s Reactions to the Arbitration Ruling Will Lead it Into Battles it Won’t Win, Part I" by Mark Rosen

August 10, 2016

The National Interest published "How China is Setting the Stage for War with Japan in the East China Sea" by Mark Rosen

July 19, 2016

  • USNI published "Analysis: Is it Time for the U.S. to Take a Position on Scarborough Shoal?" by Michael McDevitt
  • Today quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "Hague Ruling: US, China on Collision Course?"

July 18, 2016

The Diplomat published "China Has Much to Gain from the South China Sea Ruling" by Mark Rosen

July 15, 2016

The Financial Times quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "South China Sea: Building up Trouble"

July 13, 2016

  • The Associated Press quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "What’s Next in the South China Sea Disputes"
  • Air Force Magazine quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "Mixed Reactions to South China Sea Ruling"
  • Voice of America quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "China, Philippines Eye Talks After Ruling Against Beijing Maritime Claims"

July 12, 2016

  • The Associated Press quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "South China Sea Ruling Deepens Tensions Between US, China" (carried by 200+ news outlets)
  • Business Insider quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "In 2 Paragraphs, John McCain Explains Where the US Stands on the South China Sea"
  • Seapower Magazine quoted RADM Michael McDevitt in "Court Rejects China’s Sovereignty Claims in South China Sea"
  • Bloomberg Law interviewed Mark Rosen in "China Loses in South China Sea Case." Listen Now.
  • Voice of America interviewed Mark Rosen for "China: UN Court Ruling Will ‘Intensify Conflict’"
  • Voice of America (Chinese) quoted Mark Rosen on the South China Sea arbitration in "南中国海仲裁案裁的到底是什么?"

    "If the arbitral panel decided something that was in contravention of the international law, then certainly China could use legal mechanisms to try to set the decision aside."

    "If they rule that Mischief Reef is a low tide elevation, then because of its proximity to the Philippines, the Chinese occupation will not be legal, because no country can claim sovereignty over it."

    "The US was not pulling the levers on the decision to go to the arbitration. That was the sovereign decision that was made by the Philippines, and that decision was made because the Philippines felt they had no other choice but to go to court because they had been unsuccessful in trying to negotiate with China."

  • RADM Michael McDevitt spoke at the Sixth Annual CSIS South China Sea Conference on Tuesday, July 12 at CSIS Headquarters in Washington, DC.

    Watch the full conference here.

June 20, 2016

  • The Diplomat published "After the South China Sea Arbitration" by Mark Rosen
Thought Leadership

CNA Talks Podcast: Episode 17

Mark Rosen and Cara Thuringer discuss foreign investment in the Arctic and their winning maritime security report. Listen now.


Fiona Gettinger
Communications Associate
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Arlington, VA 22201