Perhaps the most significant portion of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s July 12 500-page unanimous ruling on the South China Sea is the decision on Mischief Reef.
According to the ruling, the reef and everything on it legally belongs to the Philippines. This is in spite of China’s reclamation of approximately 5,580,000 square meters of land, and the construction of a 9,800-foot runway, radar nests, and what some experts have speculated is a soon-to-be naval base.
According to the ruling, Mischief Reef falls within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines and lies approximately 129 nautical miles from Palawan and 51 nautical miles from Nanshan Island, which is occupied by the Philippines.
However, within a day of the PCA’s decision, China landed a civilian aircraft on the disputed reef for the first time. Chinese state-run media published photos of the flight crew posing in front of the plane at the newly constructed airport.
“That timing was clearly a signal of discontent of the ruling,” Gregory Poling, director of Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Business Insider.
“The court ruled China’s initial occupation of Mischief Reef and its construction of facilities there illegal, so every day that China continues to make use of those facilities it is violating international law.”
Meanwhile, Beijing maintains the Hague-based court ruling has no bearing on its rights in the South China Sea and has therefore reasserted its territorial claims to Mischief Reef.
“As I’ve said before, it [ruling] won’t have any effect,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, when asked if China would seek to bolster its sovereignty over the disputed reef.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was “impossible” for the ruling to become irrelevant since it is legally binding.
The latest sentiment from China makes the Mischief Reef a continued flash point within the region. This is only exacerbated as the US has agreed to continue sailing warships within the area as a pledge to upholding freedom-of-navigation in the region.
The US has also agreed to warn China to cease further development of islands within the Philippines’ EEZ.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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