Philippines versus China in the South China Sea: Timelines of dispute so far

Judgment on a case lodged by the Philippines challenging China's claims in the South China Sea will be handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on July 12.

The PCA, an intergovernmental organisation that organises arbitral tribunals to resolve disputes among its 121 member states, is based in The Hague, and the upcoming ruling is often referred to as The Hague ruling.

Here's a timeline of the dispute so far:

May 2009: China's "nine dash line"

In a submission to the United Nations, China claims sovereignty to islands in the South China Sea on the basis of a map with a "nine dash line" which marks out its claimed territorial waters. These extend hundreds of miles to the south and east of its island province of Hainan. Vietnam and Malaysia object.


April 8, 2012: Philippine navy intercepts Chinese fishing boats

Philippine naval forces intercept eight Chinese fishing boats near an atoll known as Scarborough Shoal, 220km off the coast of the Philippines.

Scarborough Shoal is claimed by China, the Philippines and Taiwan.

A Filipino activist holding a Philippine flag while a Chinese coast guard ship sails close to his ship at the Scarborough Shoal. PHOTO: AFP

The Philippines, which says the Shoal is in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), find a large haul of illegally-fished turtles, baby sharks, clams and corals on board the Chinese vessels. They try to arrest the fishermen but are stopped by the arrival of two Chinese maritime ships.

This leads to a two-month standoff.

June 15, 2012: China takes control of Scarborough Shoal

Philippine forces leave as part of US-mediated deal to negotiate, but Chinese forces remain and gain control.

Jan 22, 2013: Philippines takes dispute to arbitration

The Philippines files a case with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

It seeks a ruling that

  • declares claims in the South China Sea must be in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which would invalidate China's nine dash line
  • classifies maritime features occupied by China as rocks, low tide elevations or submerged banks but not islands
  • declares the Philippines' right to operate inside its EEZ and continental shelf as outlined by UNCLOS without Chinese harassment

Feb 19, 2013: China responds

China submits a Note Verbale rejecting the Philippines' claims and calling for the dispute to be resolved through bilateral negotiations. China states the Arbitral Tribunal lacks jurisdiction in the case.

Aug 1, 2013: China says it will not participate

China says it does not accept the arbitration initiated by the Philippines and will not participate in the proceedings.

March 30, 2014: Philippines submits Memorial

The Philippines submits a 10-volume Memorial to the Arbitral Tribunal that contains its legal analysis and evidence for the case.

February 2015: China builds on disputed islands

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the Spratley Islands. PHOTO: REUTERS

Satellite imagery shows China has been reclaiming land at five sites in the Spratlys and building airstrips.

June 16, 2015: China says reclamation close to done

China says it has "almost completed" reclamation in the South China Sea. According to the US, China has reclaimed some 3,000 acres of land since start of 2014.

Oct 26, 2015: US tests Freedom of Navigation (FON)

The US Navy's guided missle destroyer USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands built by China. PHOTO: REUTERS

The US sends warship USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of one of China's man-made islands - Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys. China objects, tracking and warning the vessel.

Oct 29, 2015: Tribunal rules it can arbitrate

The PCA rules that it has power to hear the Philippines' case and rejects China's argument that the dispute is about sovereignty over islands and therefore beyond the tribunal's jurisdiction.

Jan 30, 2016: US sends warship

The US conducts another FON operation, this time near Triton Island in the Paracels. China objects.

February 2016: China deploys missiles

The long-range, surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets are deployed on Woody Island in the Paracels as US President Barack Obama meets Asean leaders and calls for a halt to construction or militarisation in Asia's seas.

June 18, 2016: US sails carriers

A flight formation of US aircraft flying above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Philippine Sea on June 18, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

The US deploys two aircraft carrier strike groups for an exercise in the Philippine Sea, near the South China Sea. Analysts say the move is to reassure America's allies in the Asia Pacific.

July 5-11, 2016: China conducts military drills

China holds drills in waters around the disputed Paracel Islands, with other ships prohibited from entering the waters during that time.

July 12, 2016: PCA delivers judgment

The Peace Palace at The Hague, which houses the PCA. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Arbitral Tribunal's ruling is expected at 5pm Singapore time.

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