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China’s claim to the South China Sea

BBC Graphic, June 2011

BBC Graphic, June 2011

In case you missed this, the Taipei Times reports the latest effort by China to reiterate its claim to the South China Sea:

An op-ed in the Chinese-language editions of People’s Daily and Global Times says there are no international waters in the South China Sea and that China should act with strength to repel US interference in the contested area.

In the article, which appeared last week, Pan Guoping (潘國平), a law professor at China’s Southwest University of Law and Politics, disputes the claim that the South China Sea comprises gonghai (公海), or “high seas,” as the term is translated in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

According to Article 86 of the convention, “high seas” refer to “all parts of the sea that are not included in the exclusive economic zone [EEZ], in the territorial sea or in the internal waters of a State, or in the archipelagic waters of an archipelagic State.”

By denying the presence of high seas in the South China Sea, China would deny freedom of navigation and use of airspace to other countries over the entire area, which Pan made clear.

“The United States is only a passer-by in the South [China] Sea … As a country that has no sea coast in the region, does the United States have freedom of navigation and flight in the South [China] Sea? The answer is no! There is no international water in the South [China] Sea,” he wrote.

“China should act with stronger force … to resolutely repel [US] interference, defend China’s nine-dotted line area that history has bestowed to us,” Pan wrote, referring to the large U-shaped swathe of territory claimed by China that encompasses most of the South China Sea.

Needless to say, this claim clearly violates the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea- which China ratified in 1996– and customary international law.

(HT: James Tobyne)

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One Comment

  • Charles E. Pirtle says:

    I would like to make just a few brief points about this issue. First, there is nothing new about this claim. China set forth its claim to all the islands located within the “cow’s tounge” in its 1992 law on the Chinese Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone. My “old” Map students should recall that I used a map similar to the one used here that showed China’s claims to virtually all of the South China Sea. That map can be found on p. 120 of Michael Klare’s book, “Resource Wars, published in 2001. Second, the outline of the “cow’s tounge,” which consist of nine dashed lines around the islands, rocks and reefs of the South China Sea, first appeared on maps issed by the Nationalist Government of China in 1947; they were just maintained by the Communist Government when it took power in 1949.Third the issues raised by these claims are just one part of a multitude of different disputes that China has with its neighbors and the international community over sovereignty, jurisdiction, and the balance between coastal-states and maritime state rights in the South China Sea. For those interested, read Peter Dutton’s recent article, “Three Disputes and Three Objectives: China and the South China Sea,” in the current (Autumn 2001) issue of the Naval War College Review, which is available on-line.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.