Nine-dash line

The Philippines claims that China’s nine-dash line encroaches on its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Philippines also argues that Scarborough Shoal is defined as rocks under UNCLOS, therefore not entitled to generate maritime entitlement of more than 12 nautical miles.

  Claimed by China

Spratly Islands

As part of the case, the Philippines has argued that no feature in the Spratlys could be legally considered islands because they lack the ability to sustain human habitation or economic life. They claim that most are rocks or low tide elevations.







According to the ruling:

 Low tide elevations


Defining an island

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines land features as follows:


Must be able to "sustain human habitation or economic life". Entitled to a 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone.


Other features which cannot support life are classed as "rocks" and can claim 12 nautical miles of surrounding territorial waters.

Low tide elevations

A naturally formed area of land which is above water at low tide but submerged at high tide. Cannot claim an EEZ or territorial waters.

Sources: Phillippines Department of Foreign Affairs; U.S. State Department; UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea; Reuters
By Simon Scarr, Wen Foo and Jin Wu | REUTERS GRAPHICS