As expected, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines was exultant. Beijing responded angrily.
Territorial disputes pose a perennial international problem. Great powers, including the U.S., typically refuse to be bound by the decisions of others when they believe important interests to be at stake.
The existing order in the Asia-Pacific was established at a time when China was unable to effectively assert its claims or defend its territory. Understandably, Beijing is dissatisfied with the status quo.
Nor is Beijing the first rising power to challenge a system seemingly biased against it. The young American republic responded truculently in border disputes with both Great Britain and Mexico, even invading the latter and seizing half of that country.
In recent years the PRC has challenged territorial claims of Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Manila lacks an effective military and turned to the arbitration panel for support. The decision reaffirmed the position of the Philippines and nearby states, which will embolden them to take a tougher position against China.
Unsurprisingly, Beijing rejected the ruling and promised “to protect its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests.” The PRC also won’t be inclined to step back.