Friday, August 5, 2016

Mischief Reef the South China Sea Flash Point?

A significant part of the Permanent Court of Arbitration's July 12, 2016 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 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 believe is a soon-to-be naval base.

According to the ruling, Mischief Reef falls within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. It lies about 129 nautical miles from Palawan and 51 nautical miles from Nanshan Island, which is occupied by the Philippines.
Within a day of the ruling, 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.

Satellite image taken in September 2015 of China's land reclamation efforts on Mischief Reef
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.

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 US has confirmed it will continue sailing warships within the area as a pledge to upholding freedom-of-navigation in the region.