If the arbitration tribunal in The Hague rules against China, Beijing's options could range from benign to aggressive:
• Issues a strongly worded statement outlining its refusal to accept the court's jurisdiction and vowing to ignore the ruling.
• Extends its media campaign, proclaiming the support of more than 60 nations for its position.
• Reduces tensions by pulling back on the harassment of Filipino fishermen, refrains from adding military installations to reclaimed reefs in the Spratlys chain and leaves the Scarborough Shoal uninhabited.
• Ceases its radio warnings to military aircraft from other countries flying over features it claims, and invites new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to direct talks.
What it means: A lowering of tensions allows claimant states to put the disputes to one side to begin negotiations and potentially jointly develop mineral and energy resources.
• Declares an Air Defence Identification Zone, ordering commercial and military aircraft to lodge flight plans with it.
• Steps up patrols by its coast guard and navy, and restarts harassment of fishermen and its blockade of the BRP Sierra Madre, a former naval vessel run aground by the Philippines on the Second Thomas Shoal.
• Leaves the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as the international law clashes with its own interests.
What it means: None of these actions would necessarily trigger a major response from the United States, which has set itself up as policeman of the waters. But it may step up its military patrols, perhaps along with vessels from other navies. France in June called for joint European patrols of Asian waters.
• Starts building on Scarborough Shoal, which it seized from the Philippines in 2012. Radar, aircraft or missiles based there could reach Manila and bases in the Philippines to be used by American forces.
• Turns existing artificial islands into mini-bases by finishing runways, expanding port facilities and installing offensive missile systems and troops.
• Drags the Sierra Madre off its position on the Second Thomas Shoal.
• Specifies the coordinates of its nine-dash line, declares it to be a territorial demarcation boundary and solidifies its claim for all the waters, resources and features that lie within it.
What it means: This would put the US in a difficult situation. It had said it would take action should China build on Scarborough Shoal but the US has not followed through on previous "lines in the sand" in other parts of the world, including Syria.