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How The Hague ruling affects other claimants

SINGAPORE — Although the landmark ruling by an international arbitration panel yesterday will not decisively resolve overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea, it is expected to set the tone for future negotiations, especially for the smaller claimant states that are seeking diplomatic manoeuvring space to counter China’s assertive actions in the region.

SINGAPORE — Although the landmark ruling by an international arbitration panel yesterday will not decisively resolve overlapping maritime claims in the South China Sea, it is expected to set the tone for future negotiations, especially for the smaller claimant states that are seeking diplomatic manoeuvring space to counter China’s assertive actions in the region.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR VIETNAM

Hanoi yesterday welcomed the ruling. Dr Le Hong Hiep, a research fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute said that the ruling would bolster Vietnam’s position in the South China Sea.

“As the Tribunal declared that China’s claim based on the nine-dash line is invalid and that no feature in the Spratlys is entitled to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of its own, Vietnam can now better protect its EEZ against China’s encroachments,” he said. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, countries are allowed to exploit resources in their EEZs.

Dr Le added that the award may encourage Vietnam to file a similar arbitration case against China over the Paracel Islands, where they have overlapping claims, in the hope the tribunal will declare that no feature in the Chinese-controlled Paracels is entitled to an EEZ of its own. This will remove any possible overlaps between Beijing and Hanoi in the Paracels.

However, he pointed out that “given the Vietnamese government’s wish to maintain a stable and peaceful relationship with China, it may not file such a case anytime soon”.

Vietnam and China have historically been close economic and ideological allies. But bilateral ties were severely strained in 2014 after the deployment of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation rig near the Paracels sparked massive anti-Chinese protests that left at least 21 dead and dozens injured in Vietnam.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR MALAYSIA

The ruling that China’s nine-dash line is unlawful has affirmed Malaysia’s sovereignty over features controlled by Beijing in the disputed waters, noted Dr Tang Siew Mun, head of the Asean Studies Centre at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Malaysia had hitherto adopted a measured approach in its dealings with Beijing over the South China Sea issue due to their economic ties.

However, there are signs that Malaysia may have hardened its position, especially after the encroachment of Chinese fishing vessels during the past few months.

Dr Tang said that there is no need for Malaysia to take a stronger stance on the South China Sea as the tribunal award speaks volumes of the strength of the Malaysian position.

“However, continued Chinese aggression within Malaysia’s EEZ will put added pressure on the Malaysian leadership, which is known to have a cosy relationship with Beijing, to back up its rights in the South China Sea,” he added.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR TAIWAN

It is a bleaker picture for Taiwan, which has rejected the ruling. The Taiwanese-controlled Itu Aba Island is the biggest feature in the Spratlys and some analysts believed it had the strongest claim to island status and an EEZ.

The maps China bases its South China Sea claims on date to when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists ruled China, before they fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war.

With the tribunal declaring that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea, the implication for Taipei— which claims Itu Aba using a historical argument — is that its claims might also be nullified. ALBERT WAI

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