Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:28 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:28 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: Law of the Sea

7 October 2010 11:40

Two responses here to the questions about the law of the sea and China's claims on the South China Sea, posed yesterday by reader Julian. First, a brief note from Sam Bateman, who has written extensively on defence and maritime issues:

There is much misunderstanding on this, particularly among US writers. I recommend Bob Beckman's recent RSIS Commentary on the topic.

Second, Judah Grunstein from World Politics Review writes:

Julian is confusing territorial waters (12 nautical miles from shore) with Exclusive Economic Zones (200 nm or the limit of the continental shelf, whichever is greater), defined by  the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The EEZ does not imply sovereignty but does grant exclusive rights to all commercial activity, including resource extraction and fisheries.

Significantly, all of these boundaries extend around islands under the coastal power's sovereignty, which is why some countries make claims based on rock outcroppings upon which they've planted a flag, and why the disputed islands in the South China and East China Seas are so crucial to China's claims.

I'll have to check the diplomatic language, but I believe the Chinese reference to core interests is to the island claims. The Brazilian claim, too, while it's been described as extending sovereignty, is simply an effort to formalize the Brazilian EEZ, and the resource extraction rights that implies. The unilateral declaration is the Brazilian Government's survey of the extent of the continental shelf (ie. the EEZ). They submitted that survey to the UN in 2004, which rejected it. Now they've essentially said that they're claiming that as their EEZ, even though the re-application to the UN has yet to be ruled on.

It bears noting that even in territorial waters, civil maritime traffic has the right of free passage. And in zones where claims overlap (ie. islands that are closer together than 400 nm), there are mechanisms to resolve things.