China’s South China Sea claimBy Asia Sentinel Oct 11, 2010 6:41PM UTC
Bilateral or multilateral? Internationalisation or de-internationalisation? ask Asia Sentinel’s Huy Duong and Tinh Le
For months, concern has been growing over China’s aggressiveness in claiming a major portion of the South China Sea as its own lake, most recently through the deployment of a flotilla of some of its most modern warships into the Spratly archipelago on a three-week military exercise.
China has drawn a “U-shaped line” which encircles most of the South China Sea in an arbitrary manner to delineate a claim whose nature and basis are not specified. It is a line that does not conform to any international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982. China has always avoided stating what kind of claim that line represents.
In the face of China’s increasing assertiveness, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the ASEAN regional forum in Hanoi last July that the United States “opposes the use or threat of force by any claimant. While the United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claims and the company and rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea. Consistent with customary international law, legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features.”
Clinton’s statement was consistent with international law, which forbids the use of force or threat of force to resolve disputes. It was also consistent with the the Law of the Sea, and with the US’s longstanding policy of neutrality with regard to the sovereignty dispute over the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoals. Furthermore, it is commendable that a country offers to facilitate discussions among the disputing parties.
Nevertheless, China has reacted angrily. China has always insisted that the South China Sea disputes be dealt with by way of bilateral negotiations and has developed a “two nos” policy regarding the South China Sea: no multilateral negotiations, no “internationalization.” Therefore, in response to Clinton’s statement, China attacked what it saw as the “internationalisation” of the South China Sea issue and argued that the disputes should be settled via bilateral negotiations.
The issue consists of a number of separate disputes. The Paracels are claimed by China and Vietnam, the Scarborough Shoals by China and the Philippines and the Spratlys claimed in whole or in part by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. There are also disputes over maritime zones, such as the exclusive economic zones and the extended continental shelves.