Thursday, August 17, 2017 - 20:46:02

China’s “nine-dash line” claim: historical or self-conducted rights?

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China’s claim to the “nine-dash line” or “U-shaped line” in the East Sea is totally wrong as far as its historical name and sovereignty is concerned, radio The Voice of Vietnam (VOV) said on June 5.

China's nine-dotted line: a vague claim
The nature of the “nine-dash line” remains obfuscated. According to a diplomatic note dated May 7, 2009 sent to the UN Secretary-General, China wanted the international community to recognise the line in the East Sea as a historical precedent. If accepted at face value, most of the East Sea area would become China’s territorial waters.

In 1962, the International Law Commission conducted a study into the juridical regime of historic waters, including historic bays. To be considered historical bays or territorial waters need to satisfy two conditions based on international customs and the court’s ruling.

First, a coastal state must effectively exercise sovereign rights continuously for a long period of time.

Second, there should be explicit or implicit recognition of such practice by foreign states, especially neighbouring nations - which also have rights over the territorial sea area.

The validity of China’s “nine-dash line” claim rests on flimsy evidence that it has exercised its full sovereign rights over the maritime zone in dispute. Can the area encircled by the “nine-dash line” be considered part of Chinese territory?

The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates the juridical regime of internal waters, defining it as when a coastal State has complete and absolute sovereignty over the area in the same way it has sovereignty over its land territory. Foreign ships should ask the coastal state for permission if they want to enter or exit internal waters and must obey the controlling state’s regulations. The coastal state has rights to refuse foreign ships’ entry into its internal waters.

Since the “nine-dash line” first appeared on Chinese maps published in 1948, foreign ships - including warships - travelled freely within the maritime zone delimited by the line suffering no inconveniences. The waters within the “nine-dash line” therefore cannot be considered as China’s territorial waters.

Can the “nine-dash line” maritime zone be considered part of Chinese territory?

A coastal state has full sovereignty over its territorial waters, including the airspace above it and the seabed and soil below it. International law stipulates that all kinds of foreign vessels can travel in the area without infringing on the coastal state’s territorial waters or disturbing the state’s peace, order, security, and environment.

Some nations ask every ship for advanced notice before entering their territorial waters, particularly when they are foreign warships. It should be noted that travel rights do not extend to the airspace over territorial waters. Foreign aircraft must request permission before entering the area.

PhD Hoang Viet, a lecturer of Ho Chi Minh City University of Law, argues the maritime zone inside the “nine-dash line” cannot be considered as Chinese territory. If so, ships and vessels would have rights to travel in the area without causing trouble. Foreign warships and aircraft must ask for permission for their entry in advance.

He emphasises that since China officially published the first map including the “nine-dash line”, foreign warships and aircraft have yet to ask China for permission before entering the area. In fact, he said, China cannot cite any international law to prove its “nine-dash line” claim valid.

In order to justify its historical claim, China needs to demonstrate its enduring possessive rights over the area concerned and its peaceful and continuous management and control processes lasting an extended period. This is difficult for China to prove this.

In ancient Chinese bibliographic documents, China’s territorial areas extend to Hainan Island as the ending point in the south. In China’s geographical textbook published in 1906, the southernmost point of China is Ya Zhou coastline in Qiongzhou Island.

Independent Chinese history researcher Pham Hoang Quan said that from the Han to the Qing dynasties, no historical books mentioned any geographical coverage of the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly). This shows China did not consider the archipelagos as part of its territory in the past.

Maps drawn by foreigners are another vivid proof for the Chinese people to see reason as it prevails.

China continually reiterates that fishermen have travelled to the islands and sea areas in question for thousands of years. As they are just individuals operating on their own, not in the name of the government, China’s claim cannot accord with the principles of possession understood by the laws of international practice.

Vietnamese fishermen - especially those from State-run organisations - have frequently conducted their own island exploitation and management activities during the same period of time. There is no proof showing the East Sea as China’s “ponds” and “lakes”, even in ancient Chinese records.

Without unconvincing arguments, China failed to identify the exact coordinate for its historical claim, and kept silent. However, in recent years, China has tried to realise its “nine-dash line” legally and in the field, in an attempt to win international recognition.

For example, China modernised its marine surveillance force to detain fishermen and fishing vessels operating in the area. The Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) invited international bids for nine lots in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

China even decided to establish the so-called Sansha city, comprising the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos of Vietnam and the Macclesfield Bank within the “nine-dash line” covering up to 80 percent of the East Sea area.

French General Daniel Schaeffer, former French military attaché to Vietnam, China, and Thailand, recalled China’s 2012 cutting of the cable of Vietnam’s seismic survey ship (Binh Minh 02) within the “nine-dash line” and the 2012 clash between China and the Philippines in the Reed Bank, saying China was seeking to verify its claim.

John Hopkins University Professor Marvin Ott has affirmed no prestigious international legal organisation considers China’s East Sea “nine-dash line” claim a serious statement.

He said China’s sovereign claim based primarily on historic records is unacceptable. Any sovereignty claim must be based on international law as a signatory to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China should follow it to the letter.

On the contrary, China has gone to extreme lengths by deploying military forces, attacking fishing vessels, and garrisoning troops, while failing to prove its sovereign rights in line with international law.

China’s historical name and sovereignty arguments are not scientifically founded and only show its ambitious scheme to occupy the East Sea.-VNA
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