Will China Rethink the Law of the Sea Treaty?

by Julian Ku

China has tons of disputes with its neighbors regarding borders, especially maritime borders. It has recently been embroiled in disputes with Japan and all of its Southeast Asian neighbors over various claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.  Since all relevant nations are members of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, one might imagine that such disputes will be resolved peacefully or at least within an agreed-upon legal framework.  Indeed, the Philippines has been pushing China to avail itself of international dispute resolution.

My guess is that Chinese thinking is turning in a different direction, especially as its claims date from the pre-UNCLOS period  and as its naval power continues to expand. This editorial in the government-approved China Daily might be indicative.

As tension heats up in the South China Sea, some bordering countries insist
on solving the dispute simply within the framework of the United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but this insistence ignores history and violates inter-temporal law, a doctrine of international law.

This seems like a promising line for China to take, since its claims under UNCLOS (at least over the South China Sea) are pretty hopeless otherwise.  Expect to see more of this type of argument in the near future.


2 Responses

  1. It appears that the quotation in paragraph 3 of the Editorial is from the Island of Palmas case, 2 RIAA 829, at 845, rather than from Sir Robert.

    When the author does not know how to cite a principle properly, should his view be credible?

  2. Really, though, if you were to apply the principle they advocate, what border distinction would the Law of the Sea Treaty apply to?  Most sea borders are ancient, and many relatively in dispute, if inactively, until oil and gas drilling make them relevant.

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