China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim competing sovereignty over areas in the South China Sea.
You may have heard about the current standoff between China and the Philippines, near the Scarborough Shoal area. Here is an excerpt from a BBC News article yesterday – China needs a ”consistent policy” on the South China Sea:
China’s claim includes almost the entire South China Sea, well into what the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea recognises as the 200-mile-from-shore Exclusive Economic Zones of other claimants.
That has led to occasional flare-ups and to competition to occupy islands, reefs and sandbars.
When navy personnel boarded the Chinese fishing vessels, they found a large amount of illegally-caught fish and coral, Manila said.
Two Chinese surveillance ships then arrived in the area, preventing the navy from making arrests.
Attempts to resolve the stand-off have not yet been successful. The Philippine warship has been replaced by a coast guard vessel and the Chinese fishermen have gone, but two Chinese vessels remain there.
China has also expressed anger at the annual US-Philippines military exercises, due to run until 27 April.
This year they are taking place off Palawan, near the disputed Spratly islands which both Manila and Beijing claim. The joint exercises involve some 7,000 troops, including more than 4,000 from the US.
With China asserting its claims more aggressively the US has been strengthening old friendships in the region, says the BBC’s John Sudworth reporting from the South China Sea on the exercises. Read more…
I’ve heard something about this “200 nautical miles” rule before, but did not know the history. Apparently, it is based on the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty.
Looking at the map above, it seems rather clear — especially regarding the Scarborough Shoals — that this area belongs in the Philippine “exclusive economic zone” under UNCLOS definitions. China is claiming a very large area as “territorial waters”.
The current UNCLOS III treaty came into force in 1994, replacing earlier treaties UNCLOS I and UNCLOS II (though the concept of national rights of a nation’s coastlines dates back to the 17th century).
UNCLOS III covers exclusive economic zones (see below graphic), navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes.
United Nations – Oceans and Law of the Sea: Historical Perspective on UNCLOS
East Sea (South China Sea) Studies – All for one, one for all: promoting economic activities in the South China Sea, by Nazery Khalid.
Palawan-based blogger Alex Pronove’s latest post: Sun-Tzu – The Art of War, and President Aquino (and the standoff at Scarborough Shoal)