China’s International Law Argument on the Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island

China’s International Law Argument on the Scarborough Shoal/Huangyan Island

Interesting letter to the editor at the WSJ, defending China’s claim to the disputed island/shoal/reef in the South China Seas. It is a good preview of China’s international law argument as well as its view that UNCLOS is largely irrelevant to the dispute.

To assert that China “invented” history is a result of ignorance of history. China acquired sovereignty over Huangyan Island through discovery of and presence on the island before anyone else. Hundreds of years of jurisdiction has consolidated China’s sovereignty over the island. Historic and legal evidences are explicit, clear, complete and thorough, as proved by official documents, local chronicles and official maps throughout Chinese history. China’s sovereignty over Huangyan Island has long been recognized and respected by the international community and had not been disputed by the Philippines. On the contrary, the Philippine claim over the island has never been recognized by any other country.

We doubt if the author of the article really understands the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. It, in its preamble, clearly states that its purpose is to establish, with due regard for the sovereignty of all states, a legal order for the seas and oceans. The convention does not contain any provision that concerns alteration of land territory of any country or empower any country to extend its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to another country’s territory. The convention is by no means a law that determines territorial ownership. The Philippines has made territorial claims on the ground of “Huangyan Island is within the Philippines’ EEZ, which, as per the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, extends 200 nautical miles off the coast” represents abuse and misinterpretation of the convention based on its unilateral interests.

This is actually a similar argument to the kind of argument the UK is making over the Malvinas/Falkland.  It is not about UNCLOS, but sovereignty, and sovereignty is largely a question of historical research.  I still don’t buy it, but it is a pretty respectable argument.

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