US: China’s maritime claims in South China Sea are ‘illegitimate’ – Community News
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US: China’s maritime claims in South China Sea are ‘illegitimate’

The US State Department has re-examined China’s claim over the South China Sea and has concluded, as the United Nations arbitration tribunal has done, that China’s claims are “illegitimate” and that the claim “seriously undermines the rule of law” in the oceans.

The State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs has been examining maritime claims from coastal states around the world since 1970 to “assess their consistency with international law.” In the latest series ‘Limits in the Seas’ published on Thursday, the research is about China.

The first in line of the US investigation was China’s assertion of ownership of the South China Sea based on maps depicting dashed lines around the Sound China Sea. The US State Department added its 2014 analysis of the dotted claim, citing several points raised by the Hague-based Special Arbitration Tribunal — whose verdict was unilaterally requested by the Philippine government in 2013.

According to the US State Department study, there is “no provision” in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that allows countries to claim “historical rights”. It says there is no uniform understanding of what “historic rights” mean under international law. There were references to “historic bays” or “historic title,” but those terms have limited scope to fishing rights or access rights and make no claim to sovereignty, it added.

The US cited the ruling of the Chamber of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its dispute with Canada over its maritime borders in the Gulf of Maine. The ICJ said the UNCLOS provisions on exclusive economic zones, continental shelves and high seas override any arguments of prior use or rights over a maritime area. “The maritime zones of the Convention and their geographic limits constitute the framework governing all parts of the sea, a framework from which no reservations are permitted,” the US State Department report said.

The US also disproved China’s ownership or sovereignty claims over the four archipelagos — Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and Pratas Island. It said China cannot claim sovereignty even over land features that are under water or at low tide in their natural state, such as the Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank. While the United States does not take a position on the PRC’s sovereignty claims over certain islands in southern China, the United States has rejected claims of sovereignty on the basis of features that do not meet the definition of an island or are not within legal boundaries. from the territorial sea. ”

The US also argued that China is not an archipelago state and therefore cannot assert sovereignty over waters and submerged elements within its alleged “island groups.” Archipelago states, such as the Philippines, should draw archipelago baselines and include such features within their archipelago in order to assert sovereignty over sunken features and identify the maritime zones. China has done no such thing, the US added.

What China did, the report said, was draw straight baselines around each of the four archipelagos to justify its claims to maritime zones: the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit and inland waterways.

The US said the baselines drawn by China on the four archipelagos were “inconsistent with international law”. Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Vietnam, the United Kingdom and the US protested the baselines in the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands, while France and Germany joined the protest in the case of the Spratlys.

“None of the four ‘island groups’ claimed by the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea… meet the geographic criteria for using straight baselines under the Convention. In addition, there is no separate customary international law supporting the PRC’s position that it can enclose entire island groups within straight baselines,” the US report explains.

In a series of communiqués to the UN Secretary-General, China insisted that the UNCLOS “doesn’t cover everything about maritime order”. It cites Unclos’ preamble that “rules and principles of general international law” still apply to matters not covered by Unclos.

“Unclos does not exclude the historic rights of a coastal state that have been established in practice over the long term. Relevant international lawsuits have recognized the landmark rights,” China wrote in its August 16, 2021 communiqué to the UN Secretary-General, in response to New Zealand’s statement.

The US has separately verified this claim by China, and their findings show that “most states expressly rely on the treaty’s provisions regarding remote archipelagos.” There were “few instances” of other countries engaging in similar practices, but other states formally protested.

However, the US has no claim to the South China Sea and the UN is bound to oversee China – with its veto power in the Security Council.

“With the publication of this latest study, the United States again calls on the PRC to conform its maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, in order to comply with the decision of the arbitral tribunal in its ruling of July 12, 2016, in the arbitration of the South China Sea, and to cease its unlawful and coercive activities in the South China Sea,” the US State Department said in a statement.

Image Credits: Bloomberg


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