The surprising international tribunal ruling against Beijing's claims in the South China Sea was a vindication of long-standing U.S. policy on the disputed waters and went well beyond Washington's expectations. In firmly rejecting China's "nine-dash" line, the tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague provided support for the U.S. argument that all maritime disputes in Asia must be resolved multilaterally and peacefully. The ruling also provides legal justification for freedom of navigation operations, whereby U.S. ships sail close to China's artificial islands.
The scale of Beijing's legal defeat will undoubtedly lead to much anxiety and anger in China, and raises fears about what happens next. The Chinese government could respond by dramatically escalating its activities in the South China Sea, leading to a dangerous standoff with American forces. With war raging in the Middle East, the European Union on the brink of a breakup, a persistent danger from Russia and a spreading global terrorist threat, the last thing the U.S. needs right now is a real security crisis in the South China Sea.