How to resolve the South China Sea issue

Updated: 2011-07-07 07:58

By Jin Yongming (China Daily)

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China has been making continuous efforts to defuse the tension over the South China Sea issue, even though some countries have taken unilateral actions to meet their interests.

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The South China Sea issue is complicated with legal disputes, which should be solved within the framework of international laws, including the Charter of United Nations, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The legal disputes can be divided into two parts: China's territorial disputes with some Southeast Asian countries, and its disagreements with the US on military action in the region. The US claims to defend free navigation in the South China Sea, but actually it is defending its own military interests.

The disputes between countries can be resolved peacefully either politically or diplomatically, or through legal procedures.

The key to solving the territorial disputes over the islands, islets and reefs in the South China Sea through political means lies in related countries' (such as the Philippines and Vietnam) willingness to "shelve the disputes" and consent for "joint development". Since some countries are already exploiting many of the islands, it is very difficult to define the sea areas which need to be jointly developed and help resolve the disputes politically.

It is difficult to resolve them by using international laws, too, because neither China nor Vietnam has accepted the jurisdiction of the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) without reservations. The Philippines has accepted the ICJ's jurisdiction but has reservations on its jurisdiction over sea and land territorial disputes. Thus the possibility of solving the problem through the ICJ can also be ruled out.

Besides, according to Article 298 of UNCLOS, China made a statutory declaration on Aug 25, 2006 to the UN secretary-general that it doesn't accept any international court or arbitration in disputes over sea delimitation, territorial disputes and military activities. So the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea cannot intervene in the South China Sea disputes between China and some Southeast Asian countries.

Moreover, without an agreement among the relevant countries, no arbitration organization can deal with the disputes. Therefore, the disputes cannot be resolved politically any time soon.

But there are some good examples of success. On June 30, 2004, the China-Vietnam Agreement on the Demarcation of the Beibu Gulf and the Beibu Gulf Fishery Cooperation Agreement came into force. On March 14, 2005, China, Vietnam and the Philippines signed the Tripartite Agreement for Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking in the Agreement Area in the South China Sea. And recently, China and Vietnam have intensified negotiations on new agreements to resolve their other disputes.

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