South China Sea dispute: Are they islands, rocks or reefs?

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is set to release its final decision this evening on a case brought by the Philippines to challenge's China's "nine-dash line" claim in the South China Sea.

Pedestrians pass a military propaganda poster on a street in Shanghai on July 12, 2016.

The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration has said it will deliver its verdict on a dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea later today.

Both Beijing and Washington have accused each other of provocations in the South China Sea. China has intensified the drumbeat of its opposition...

Territorial claims, commercial use, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have been disputed between the littoral states Brunei, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam since the 19th century. Chinese Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said Beijing is opposed to any mention about China's claims in the sea and it "should not be on the summit's agenda".

He pledged to pursue a peaceful resolution of his country's territorial disputes with China.

If, however, China's reaction to the decision is harsh, and it seeks to impose further control in the region, other countries - led by the United States - are likely to respond with concrete measures to resist Chinese expansion. Emphasizing its desire for bilateral treaties, China has repeatedly rejected external demands for multilateral negotiation through ASEAN or bodies such as the PCA.

The announcement came as a tribunal in The Hague said none of the Spratly islands granted China an exclusive economic zone.

China has said almost 60 countries support its position on the South China Sea, but the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative has listed only 10 backing it: Afghanistan, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Togo, and Vanuatu.

The most significant is complaint number two, which claims China's "nine-dash line" is contrary to UNCLOS. Manila brought the case because China's claims infringe upon its own 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

The South China Sea is a lucrative area: it facilitates about Dollars $5 trillion worth of trade each year, and contains ample oil & gas as well as fishery resources.

The ruling stands to ramp up tensions in the region, where China's increased military assertiveness has anxious its smaller neighbors and is a point of confrontation with the United States.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is new to global relations, has hinted at a conciliatory tack when the award is made.

The People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper said on social media late Monday that Chinese navy reserves have been called up to perform "functional tasks". Earlier in the week, Vietnam protested the Chinese drill and has demanded that Beijing stop acting in a way that threatens security and maritime safety.

With some of its members under enormous pressure from Beijing, the group has failed twice - in Cambodia in 2012 and last month in Kunming - to issue a joint statement expressing concern over China's actions in the South China Sea.

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