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What next in the dispute over the South China Sea?

China is rejecting a ruling by an international tribunal that its claim to a huge expanse of the South China Sea is invalid. The dispute was a victory for the Philippines and other nations that also hold claims to the waters around the Spratly Islands, a major fishing, trade and energy production corridor. Judy Woodruff talks to Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, first: A judgment was handed down today by an international tribunal that could have far-reaching effects in Asia. It began as a dispute between China and the Philippines over a huge expanse of the South China Sea, and China's assertion of control there in waters claimed by many countries.

    The area is a major fishing, trade and energy production corridor. And, today, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China.

    For more on this dispute, on the case, and its implications, I'm joined by Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    Bonnie Glaser, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Remind us, first of all, what was the dispute that this international tribunal was asked to resolve?

    BONNIE GLASER, Center for Strategic and International Studies: Well, the Philippines brought this case against China in January 2013, and there are 15 requests that it made.

    They're not about sovereignty over territory, because this tribunal is not empowered to rule on sovereignty issues regarding territory, but the Philippines was asking other things. It was asking, for example, that China's nine-dash-line claim be ruled invalid and that China be told that it doesn't have any historic rights that can be applied to waters that give it any special rights to have fishing or energy exploitation in waters that are in exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

    The Philippines also asked that the tribunal rule on the status of eight of the features. And the tribunal ruled on most of those and importantly found none of the features are full islands. So, none of them get a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. They just get a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea if they're a rock, and some of them are underwater, and they get no maritime entitlement whatsoever.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, let me just stop you there. What was China arguing was the basis for its territorial claim, then?

  • BONNIE GLASER:

    Well, China has argued, as have five other claimants, that they own many of the islands. Some of them, like China and Taiwan, claim all of the islands in the South China Sea.

    This particular set of islands is in the Spratlys. It's the southern part of the South China Sea. And the Chinese rejected this ruling from the outset. They claimed that the tribunal didn't have jurisdiction on any of these issues. So, the Chinese refused to participate in the tribunal ruling. And they have claimed that it is not binding on China.

    But, according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea — and China is a state party — it is binding on both parties, the Philippines and China.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, what does it mean, then? China, as you say, is rejecting the ruling. They're saying it's an invalid — was invalid for the court to even consider this. What does it mean, then? Is it enforceable in any way, this decision?

  • BONNIE GLASER:

    There is no enforcement mechanism, Judy, under the Convention on the Law of the Sea. And so it's really left up to the international community to encourage China to be a law-abiding citizen and for China to see that it's in its interest to not be an outlaw.

    China wants to, I believe, rise peacefully. It doesn't want to have confrontation with its neighbors. So I think this is going to create some thinking, maybe rethinking in China about its approach to its neighbors, I hope. But in the short run, we're likely to see increased tensions, and I think that the Chinese might take some steps to reassert their claims, because Xi Jinping will face pressure domestically.

    He has lost face on this issue, because this award, as they call it, the decision, was almost completely in favor of the Philippines. It was very one-sided.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you do see China, perhaps, rethinking its approach on this? And, just quickly, effect on the United States, which clearly has a lot at stake with its allies in the Pacific?

  • BONNIE GLASER:

    Yes, well, the United States has made its interests quite clear in the Pacific. It wants to have a rules-based order and wants to see China part of that rules-based order.

    So we will have to see going forward whether this becomes a source of renewed tensions in the South China Sea between China and its neighbors and between the U.S. and China, or whether we can put this issue on a diplomatic track and find ways for bilateral fishing agreements, joint energy exploration and other ways, shelve these disputes, and find ways to cooperate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A lot of questions coming out of this ruling.

    Bonnie Glaser with CSIS, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, we thank you.

  • BONNIE GLASER:

    Thank you.

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