An international tribunal in The Hague ruled Tuesday that Beijing has no legal claim to its "historic right" over disputed territory in the South China Sea.

The Philippines took Beijing to court in 2013 after the Chinese navy seized the Scarborough Shoal, a cluster of reef and rocks that served as a rich fishing ground for the countries surrounding the South China Sea. In its filing to the international tribunal, the Philippines claimed that none of the island-like features in the sea are actually islands.

The tribunal agreed. The map below, created by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, shows how the panel defined the disputed landforms in the South China Sea. Rocks and submerged reefs do not allow a nation to declare a maritime or exclusive economic zone — which China did with its nine-dash line.


This map shows the tribunal's ruling on the landforms in the South China Sea. (Center for Strategic and International Studies)

The Post's Simon Denyer and Emily Rauhala report:

The tribunal backed the Philippines’ submission that none of those features are islands — as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Only natural (rather than artificially constructed) islands that can sustain human habitation qualify for both 12 nautical miles of territorial waters and 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones under UNCLOS.

In other words, the ruling drastically undermines China’s claim to the waters surrounding the island bases it is in the process of building.

The tribunal found that “certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China.” It went on to say China had violated the Philippines' sovereign rights by interfering with its fishing and petroleum exploration, building artificial islands and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing there.

It also ruled that Chinese authorities were aware that Chinese fishermen had “harvested endangered sea turtles, coral and giant clams on a substantial scale” in the South China Sea and had not fulfilled Beijing’s obligation under the Law of the Sea to prevent such activities.

Read the full story on Tuesday's ruling.