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Cover Stories Series 2011> Smoothing the Waters> Opinions
UPDATED: June 7, 2011 NO. 23 JUNE 9, 2011
Indisputable Sovereignty
Opposition to China's ocean claim is poorly supported

OIL RICHES: Chinese engineers work on a South China Sea oil platform off Huizhou in Guangdong Province on January 10 (LIU DAWEI)

Multiple factors

From a legal standpoint, those who believe the solving of disputes over the South China Sea shall be only by the UNCLOS either are intentionally misleading the world or have adopted a one-sided interpretation of the convention.

Generally, the UNCLOS can be used to solve only some marine disputes, but cannot be used to solve disputes over territorial sovereignty. This is determined by the legislative purpose of the convention. To be specific, its purpose is to, with due regard to the sovereignty of all countries, establish a regime of law and order in the world's oceans and seas to facilitate international maritime traffic and promote the peaceful use of the sea. It aims to promote the fair and effective utilization of marine resources, the conservation of living marine resources and protection of the marine environment. It is widely acknowledged the UNCLOS cannot be used as a legal basis for solving disputes over the Nansha Islands' sovereignty. What's more, the UNCLOS is only one part of international law, but cannot act as a substitute for international law.

The convention does not directly address maritime disputes either. It only offers principles, means and procedures of dispute settlement in order to achieve an equitable solution.

The disputes in the South China Sea are centered on the sovereignty of some of the Nansha Islands and waters surrounding them. This is not a simple legal issue. Maritime disputes usually involve complicated multiple circumstances, at least including political, diplomatic, military, economic, historical as well as legal factors. They also involve complex state-to-state relations and geopolitical issues.

The South China Sea disputes are no exception. Therefore, the UNCLOS is only one of the factors to consider when seeking a solution to the disputes.

For example, two factors are essential to determining the sovereignty of the Nansha Islands. One is history, as historical facts must be taken into consideration when addressing territorial disputes. The other is international law, especially the rules of obtaining territory. Both go beyond the scope of the UNCLOS.

Of all countries involved in the disputes, China has the longest historical record of jurisdiction over the islands and their surrounding waters. Therefore, those who have repeatedly stressed the UNCLOS is the only rule to abide by in resolving South China Sea disputes, or the disputes could only be solved with the UNCLOS, are actually attempting to deny the historical and legal basis substantiating Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Ongoing negotiations

It is unreasonable to demand China abandon its claims in the South China Sea. This kind of demand not only casts historical facts to the wayside but also runs counter to common sense. In general, without negotiations between states involved in a dispute or a commonly accepted ruling, it is impossible for one state to accept another's demand to abandon claims.

The disputes in the South China Sea should be solved through peaceful negotiations and friendly consultations. No person or country has the right to demand China give up its claims. And China isn't obligated to abandon its rights without proper negotiations.

Despite complicated disputes between China and other countries adjacent to the South China Sea, China firmly believes peaceful coexistence, dialogue and cooperation are the keys to solving the disputes.

China is devoted to establishing friendships, enhancing political mutual trust and expanding cooperation with its neighboring countries involved in the South China Sea disputes. It has adopted a policy of restraint and tried to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

On the one hand, China has always held that the disputes should be resolved through bilateral peaceful negotiations, based on historical facts and international laws, including the UNCLOS. On the other hand, it has taken active efforts to safeguard the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. It has been working together with other countries to cope with non-traditional security issues and challenges.

Negotiation channels between China and other countries concerned have been smooth. Bilateral negotiations between China and Viet Nam, the Philippines and Malaysia are under way. More importantly, safeguards and freedom of navigation in the waters have never been affected by the disputes.

The author is a senior researcher and deputy director general with the China Institute for Marine Affairs of the State Oceanic Administration

China Opposes Viet Nam's South China Sea Oil Exploration

China opposes Viet Nam's exploring oil and gas in China's jurisdictional area of the South China Sea, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said on May 28.

"China's stance on the South China Sea is clear and consistent. We oppose the oil and gas operations conducted by Viet Nam, which have undermined China's interests and jurisdictional rights in the South China Sea and violated the consensus both countries have reached on the issue," Jiang said in a statement.

Jiang made the remarks responding to a recent report saying Hanoi claimed Chinese marine surveillance vessels interfered with Viet Nam's oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea and accused Beijing of violating its sovereignty.

"What relevant Chinese departments did was completely normal marine law-enforcement and surveillance activities in China's jurisdictional sea area," Jiang said.

"China has been committed to safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea. We are willing to work together with relevant parties to seek a solution to related disputes and implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea," Jiang said.

(Source: Xinhua News Agency)

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