China's position paper on South China Sea
Updated: 2014-12-07 10:20
15. With regard to the second category of claims by the Philippines, China believes that the nature and maritime entitlements of certain maritime features in the South China Sea cannot be considered in isolation from the issue of sovereignty.
16. In the first place, without determining the sovereignty over a maritime feature, it is impossible to decide whether maritime claims based on that feature are consistent with the Convention.
17. The holder of the entitlements to an exclusive economic zone ( "EEZ" ) and a continental shelf under the Convention is the coastal State with sovereignty over relevant land territory. When not subject to State sovereignty, a maritime feature per se possesses no maritime rights or entitlements whatsoever. In other words, only the State having sovereignty over a maritime feature is entitled under the Convention to claim any maritime rights based on that feature. Only after a State' s sovereignty over a maritime feature has been determined and the State has made maritime claims in respect thereof, could there arise a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention, if another State questions the compatibility of those claims with the Convention or makes overlapping claims. If the sovereignty over a maritime feature is undecided, there cannot be a concrete and real dispute for arbitration as to whether or not the maritime claims of a State based on such a feature are compatible with the Convention.
18. In the present case, the Philippines denies China' s sovereignty over the maritime features in question, with a view to completely disqualifying China from making any maritime claims in respect of those features. In light of this, the Philippines is putting the cart before the horse by requesting the Arbitral Tribunal to determine, even before the matter of sovereignty is dealt with, the issue of compatibility of China' s maritime claims with the Convention. In relevant cases, no international judicial or arbitral body has ever applied the Convention to determine the maritime rights derived from a maritime feature before sovereignty over that feature is decided.
19. Secondly, in respect of the Nansha Islands, the Philippines selects only a few features and requests the Arbitral Tribunal to decide on their maritime entitlements. This is in essence an attempt at denying China' s sovereignty over the Nansha Islands as a whole.
20. The Nansha Islands comprises many maritime features. China has always enjoyed sovereignty over the Nansha Islands in its entirety, not just over some features thereof. In 1935, the Commission of the Chinese Government for the Review of Maps of Land and Waters published the Map of Islands in the South China Sea. In 1948, the Chinese Government published the Map of the Location of the South China Sea Islands. Both maps placed under China' s sovereignty what are now known as the Nansha Islands as well as the Dongsha Islands, the Xisha Islands and the Zhongsha Islands. The Declaration of the Government of the People' s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea of 1958 declared that the territory of the People' s Republic of China includes, inter alia, the Nansha Islands. In 1983, the National Toponymy Commission of China published standard names for some of the South China Sea Islands, including those of the Nansha Islands. The Law of the People' s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone of 1992 again expressly provides that the Nansha Islands constitutes a part of the land territory of the People' s Republic of China.
21. In Note Verbale No. CML/8/2011 of 14 April 2011 addressed to Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations stated that "under the relevant provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as well as the Law of the People' s Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (1992) and the Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf of the People' s Republic of China (1998), China' s Nansha Islands is fully entitled to Territorial Sea, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf." It is plain that, in order to determine China' s maritime entitlements based on the Nansha Islands under the Convention, all maritime features comprising the Nansha Islands must be taken into account.
22. The Philippines, by requesting the Arbitral Tribunal to determine the maritime entitlements of only what it describes as the maritime features "occupied or controlled by China" , has in effect dissected the Nansha Islands. It deliberately makes no mention of the rest of the Nansha Islands, including those illegally seized or claimed by the Philippines. Its real intention is to gainsay China' s sovereignty over the whole of the Nansha Islands, deny the fact of its illegal seizure of or claim on several maritime features of the Nansha Islands, and distort the nature and scope of the China-Philippines disputes in the South China Sea. In addition, the Philippines has deliberately excluded from the category of the maritime features "occupied or controlled by China" the largest island in the Nansha Islands, Taiping Dao, which is currently controlled by the Taiwan authorities of China. This is a grave violation of the One-China Principle and an infringement of China' s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This further shows that the second category of claims brought by the Philippines essentially pertains to the territorial sovereignty dispute between the two countries.
23. Finally, whether or not low-tide elevations can be appropriated is plainly a question of territorial sovereignty.
24. The Philippines asserts that some of the maritime features, about which it has submitted claims for arbitration, are low-tide elevations, thus being incapable of appropriation as territory. As to whether those features are indeed low-tide elevations, this Position Paper will not comment. It should, however, be pointed out that, whatever nature those features possess, the Philippines itself has persisted in claiming sovereignty over them since the 1970s. By Presidential Decree No. 1596, promulgated on 11 June 1978, the Philippines made known its unlawful claim to sovereignty over some maritime features in the Nansha Islands including the aforementioned features, together with the adjacent but vast areas of waters, sea-bed, subsoil, continental margin and superjacent airspace, and constituted the vast area as a new municipality of the province of Palawan, entitled "Kalayaan" . Notwithstanding that Philippine Republic Act No. 9522 of 10 March 2009 stipulates that the maritime zones for the so-called "Kalayaan Island Group" (i.e., some maritime features of China' s Nansha Islands) and "Scarborough Shoal" (i.e., China' s Huangyan Dao) be determined in a way consistent with Article 121 of the Convention (i.e., the regime of islands), this provision was designed to adjust the Philippines' maritime claims based on those features within the aforementioned area. The Act did not vary the territorial claim of the Philippines to the relevant maritime features, including those it alleged in this arbitration as low-tide elevations. In Note Verbale No. 000228, addressed to Secretary-General of the United Nations on 5 April 2011, the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations stated that, "the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) constitutes an integral part of the Philippines. The Republic of the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction over the geological features in the KIG." The Philippines has maintained, to date, its claim to sovereignty over 40 maritime features in the Nansha Islands, among which are the very features it now labels as low-tide elevations. It is thus obvious that the only motive behind the Philippines' assertion that low-tide elevations cannot be appropriated is to deny China' s sovereignty over these features so as to place them under Philippine sovereignty.
25. Whether low-tide elevations can be appropriated as territory is in itself a question of territorial sovereignty, not a matter concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention. The Convention is silent on this issue of appropriation. In its 2001 Judgment in Qatar v. Bahrain, the ICJ explicitly stated that, "International treaty law is silent on the question whether low-tide elevations can be considered to be 'territory' . Nor is the Court aware of a uniform and widespread State practice which might have given rise to a customary rule which unequivocally permits or excludes appropriation of low-tide elevations" (Qatar v. Bahrain, I.C.J. Reports 2001, pp. 101-102, para. 205). "International treaty law" plainly includes the Convention, which entered into force in 1994. In its 2012 Judgment in Nicaragua v. Colombia, while the ICJ stated that "low-tide elevations cannot be appropriated" (Nicaragua v. Colombia, I.C.J. Reports 2012, p. 641, para. 26), it did not point to any legal basis for this conclusory statement. Nor did it touch upon the legal status of low-tide elevations as components of an archipelago, or sovereignty or claims of sovereignty that may have long existed over such features in a particular maritime area. On all accounts, the ICJ did not apply the Convention in that case. Whether or not low-tide elevations can be appropriated is not a question concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention.
26. As to the third category of the Philippines' claims, China maintains that the legality of China' s actions in the waters of the Nansha Islands and Huangyan Dao rests on both its sovereignty over relevant maritime features and the maritime rights derived therefrom.
27. The Philippines alleges that China' s claim to and exercise of maritime rights in the South China Sea have unlawfully interfered with the sovereign rights, jurisdiction and rights and freedom of navigation, which the Philippines is entitled to enjoy and exercise under the Convention. The premise for this claim must be that the spatial extent of the Philippines' maritime jurisdiction is defined and undisputed, and that China' s actions have encroached upon such defined areas. The fact is, however, to the contrary. China and the Philippines have not delimited the maritime space between them. Until and unless the sovereignty over the relevant maritime features is ascertained and maritime delimitation completed, this category of claims of the Philippines cannot be decided upon.
28. It should be particularly emphasized that China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all States in the South China Sea in accordance with international law.
29. To sum up, by requesting the Arbitral Tribunal to apply the Convention to determine the extent of China' s maritime rights in the South China Sea, without first having ascertained sovereignty over the relevant maritime features, and by formulating a series of claims for arbitration to that effect, the Philippines contravenes the general principles of international law and international jurisprudence on the settlement of international maritime disputes. To decide upon any of the Philippines' claims, the Arbitral Tribunal would inevitably have to determine, directly or indirectly, the sovereignty over both the maritime features in question and other maritime features in the South China Sea. Besides, such a decision would unavoidably produce, in practical terms, the effect of a maritime delimitation, which will be further discussed below in Part IV of this Position Paper. Therefore, China maintains that the Arbitral Tribunal manifestly has no jurisdiction over the present case.