Asia – China has disregarded the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration award, in favor of the Philippines over the rights of the South China Sea, saying it will not be bound by it. This has led to manifestations, especially in Vietnam, where many protestors have been detained.

For centuries the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of the Philippines, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Taiwan, Nation of Brunei and Malaysia have been in disputes over the South China Sea, a marginal sea, part of the Pacific Ocean. However, in recent years the tension has growth exponentially.

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, May 21, 2015. Credit: Reuters

The South China Sea is partially enclosed by two island chains of Spratly and the Paracel, part of the territory claimed, which also includes boundaries in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The sea is a major shipping route, supplies the livelihood of thousands of people across the region with its fishing grounds, and the islands itself could have reserves of mineral resources.

China claims the largest portion of territory, which they defined as the “nine-dash line.” According to Chinese authorities, the area has been under their control for centuries. However, China started this claims only in the forties, using a map published on December 1, 1947, by the government of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

The original showed 11 dashes, which were later reduced to nine when the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai requested the reduction of the region claimed by China in the Gulf of Tonkin. Some time later a 10th dash was added, extending China’s claimed sovereignty toward Taiwan and the East China Sea.

Vietnam stated the island had been theirs since the 17th Century and that they have documentation proving it. On the other hand, the Philippines says the Spratly Islands belong to it since they are very close to the country.

China, Taiwan, and the Philippines share the claim to the Huangyan Island (in Chinese), also known as the Scarborough Shoal, which is very close to the three nations.

Brunei and Malaysia are also disputing parts of the South China Sea territory, under the premise that it falls within their economic exclusion zones, as defined by United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Malaysia includes the Spratlys Islands in their claim.

In 2013 The Philippines announced it chose international arbitration, taking China to The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration under the auspices of Part XV of the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea.

On 12 July 2016, the tribunal issued a 500-page long award in the Republic of Philippines v. People’s Republic of China case, in favor of the Philippines, stating China had violated the country’s sovereign rights.

The award made it clear that China claims that it “had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources” on the Scarborough Shoal were unfounded and that the Shoal was within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. Thus, China interference in the Philippines exploration for hydrocarbons and fishing was a violation of sovereign rights.

The ruling meant a ray of hope for the other several nations claiming a part of the South China Sea.

However, Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will not be bound by the “ill-founded” and “naturally null and void” ruling, stating that their “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” came first. The government also said the court had no jurisdiction and had noted the award “misinterprets the international law.”

The People’s Daily, which is the Communist party’s newspaper, also claimed that “the Chinese government and the Chinese people firmly oppose (the ruling) and will neither acknowledge it nor accept it.”

Angered by these allegations, many Vietnamese activists used social media to gather protesters this Sunday in the country’s capital, Hanoi. However, scared that allowing people to protest would result in criticism of their rule, the Vietnamese authoritarian government chose to quash the manifestations.

According to various sources, at least thirty activists have been detained by security forces in plainclothes, who tossed them into cars and buses.

This is not the first time the various claiming nations have had significant and bloody collisions over the South China Sea.  In 1974 China forcefully took the Paracels from Vietnam, who lose more than 70 troops,

In 1988, 60 Vietnamese sailors were killed after a fight for the Spratlys against the Chinese. In 2012 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarded the South China Sea as a “core national interest”, as important as the Tibet or Taiwan itself, which fueled the tensions

Also in 2012, Philippines and China had a very long maritime stand-off, claiming respective intrusions on the Scarborough Shoal; also in 2012, the Vietnamese held large anti-China protests after China reportedly sabotaged two Vietnamese exploration operations.

In 2014, at least three Chinese nationals were killed in riots in Vietnam, after Beijing sent an oil rig into the Sea, which also led to multiple collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese ships.

Sources: BBC