China’s prestige as a rising global power suffered a blow as an international tribunal said its efforts to assert control over the South China Sea exceeded the law.

The ruling is a rebuff to years of Chinese activity in the waterway. Under President Xi Jinping, China has built a web of artificial islands with runways and lighthouses. It has shooed away planes and ships from other nations, and its coast guard has clashed with fishing boats. At the heart of Xi’s actions is a bid to restore China to great power status and push back against decades of U.S. influence.

China boycotted the process and dismissed the ruling. The outcome may empower other claimant states and undercut Xi’s efforts to present China as a responsible player on the world stage. The risk is it now hardens its stance over a waterway that hosts about $5 trillion of trade a year and is a link for global energy shipments.

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