China's top court issued an 'ominous' message about the South China Sea

The days of nations jockeying for position in the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea aren’t even close to being over, despite last month’s historic legal decision rejecting China’s claim to the majority of the region.

On Tuesday, China’s top court said there was a “clear legal basis for China to safeguard maritime order, marine safety and interests, and to exercise integrated management over the country’s jurisdictional seas.” The regulation, which went into effect on Tuesday, states that those who engage in illegal hunting or fishing in China’s waters will be pursued for criminal liability.

“The Chinese court’s ruling is China’s way of saying that it has the right to continue to do what it wants in the South China Sea,” Robert Kaplan, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and author of
Asia’s Cauldron,” told Business Insider.

“This is kind of an ominous suggestion that they will be prosecuting people who enter the waters that China claims,” Michael Davis, a law professor at Hong Kong University told CNN.

“It appears that China is establishing the legal basis to enforce violations of Chinese domestic law in the South China Sea. There is still ambiguity, however, since China has not clarified what it means by its jurisdictional seas,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.

“It remains to be seen whether this announcement from a Chinese court is intended for domestic purposes or will be used to assert sovereignty within the nine-dash-line,” Glaser added.

On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a 500-page unanimous ruling in Republic of Philippines v. People’s Republic of China, a case brought by the Philippines in 2013.

The court found that Beijing had violated the Philippines’ economic and sovereign rights and concluded there was no legal basis for China’s nine-dash line, which encompasses approximately 85% of the South China Sea.

And while the ruling is only binding between Beijing and Manila, it does, however, set a legal foundation by determining that the rules of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNLCLOS) take precedence over China’s historic claims.

In short, if there is no nine-dash line, other territorial claimants in the South China Sea may be inspired to file lawsuits against China if Beijing refuses to compromise on access to the resource-rich waters.

Rival territorial claims from Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, and China make the South China Sea one of the most disputed regions in the world.

However, Beijing has maintained that the Hague-based court ruling has no bearing on its rights in the South China Sea.

NOW WATCH: The US Navy just flexed its muscles in the world’s most contested region

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.