Competing Claims in the South China Sea Viewed Through International Admiralty Law

By Constantine J. Petallides
2016, Vol. 8 No. 01 | pg. 3/3 |

IV. Conclusion

Despite China’s claims of absolute sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea, it appears that China’s neighbors are refusing to back down. Given the building momentum of the US freedom of navigation patrols and the case against China accepted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, it seems like China’s neighbors are better equipped to break through the nine-dashed line.

Scholars agree that countries like Vietnam and the Philippines have “determined that when dealing with a rising superpower like China whose claims may extend beyond those permitted under UNCLOS, it is in their interests to bring their claims and positions into conformity with UNCLOS and to base their claims exclusively on the Convention.”130 While UNCLOS is unable to settle the dispute directly, if the countries brought their territorial claims more in line with the convention, there would be a stronger basis of understanding between them. It would also create more opportunities for meaningful negotiation and concessions between them. Also, if each country conformed as completely as possible with UNCLOS and China continued to insist on the nine-dashed line, it would create opportunities for diplomatic and economic pressure to be used. China, not wanting to be ostracized by its neighbors, would be forced to reassess its priorities.

While international law’s enforcement mechanisms are likely useless against a superpower, if a united ASEAN positioned itself as a staunch defender of international law against a bully, China would face much greater international pressure to abandon its excessive claims and play by the same rules as everyone else.


1.) Robert Beckman, The Un Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea, 107 Am. J. Int'l L. 142, 143 (2013).

2.) Id.

3.) Id.

4.) United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397.

UNCLOS Article 121(1) [Herein after cited as UNCLOS].

5.) Beckman, supra at 144.

6.) Id.

7.) Id.

8.) Id.

9.) Id.

10.) Id.

11.) Daniel J. Dzurek, The Spratly Islands Dispute: Who's on First? 56 (1996).

12.) Id. 56-57.

13.) Beckman, supra at 144.

14.) Id.

15.) Id.

16.) Marjorie Ellen Gallagher, The Time Is Now: The United States Needs to Accede to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to Exert Influence over the Competing Claims in the South China Sea, 28 Temp. Int'l & Comp. L.J. 1, 17 (2014).

17.) See Tuong Nguyen, South China Sea conflict generates uncertainty and insecurity, GlobalPost (Aug. 24, 2012), http://

18.) David Lague, Analysis: China's nine-dashed line in South China Sea, Reuters (May 25, 2012),

19.) Lieutenant Commander Robert T. Kline, The Pen and the Sword: The People's Republic of China's Effort to Redefine the Exclusive Economic Zone Through Maritime Lawfare and Military Enforcement, 216 Mil. L. Rev. 122, 135-36 (2013).

20.) Id.

21.) Id.

22.) Id.

23.) Id. at 145.

24.) Id.

25.) Florian Dupuy, Pierre-Marie Dupuy, A Legal Analysis of China's Historic Rights Claim in the South China Sea, 107 Am. J. Int'l L. 124, 126 (2013).

26.) Id.

27.) Declaration on China's Territorial Sea, September 9, 1958. English translation available:

28.) Dupuy, supra at 127.

29.) An official translation of the Law [of the People's Republic of China] on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone is reproduced in Annex 2 of U.S. DEP'T OF STATE, LIMITS IN THE SEAS NO. 117, STRAIGHT BASELINE CLAIM: CHINA (1996), available at http://

30.) Dupuy, supra at 127, citing paragraph 3 of China's declaration upon ratification of UNCLOS, at “The People's Republic of China reaffirms its sovereignty over all its archipelagos and islands as listed in article 2 of the Law of the People's Republic of China on the territorial sea and the contiguous zone ....”

31.) Note Verbale No. CML/8/2011 from the Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the UN Secretary-General (Apr. 14, 2011), at phl_e.pdf.

32.) "The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (A historical perspective)". United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, 1998.

33.) Id.

34.) Kline, supra at 130.

35.) Id. 130-131.

36.) Kline, supra at 131 citing J. Ashley Roach & Robert W. Smith, Excessive Maritime Claims, 66 INT'L L. STUD. 109 (1994).

37.) Kline, supra at 131 (2013) citing JAMES KRASKA, MARITIME POWER AND THE LAW OF THE SEA 95 (2011).

38.) Kline, supra at 131.

39.) Id.

40.) UNCLOS Art. 2.

41.) Id.

42.) UNCLOS Art. 4.

43.) UNCLOS Art. 57.

44.) UNCLOS Art. 56.

45.) Kline, supra at 131.

46.) Id.

47.) Id. citing J. Ashley Roach & Robert W. Smith, Excessive Maritime Claims, 66 INT'L L. STUD. 109 (1994).

48.) Beckman, supra at 152.

49.) Omar Saleem, The Spratly Islands Dispute: China Defines the New Millenium, 15 Am. U. Int'l L. Rev. 527, 542-43 (2000).

50.) Id.

51.) Yann-Huei Song, Conflicting Outer Continental Shelf Claims in the East and South China Seas: Proposals for Cooperation and Peaceful Resolution, 35 U. Haw. L. Rev. 485, 494 (2013).

52.) Id.

53.) Id.

54.) Jane Perlez, Vietnam Law on Contested Islands Draws China's Ire, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2012),

55.) Song, supra at 494,

56.) Beckman, supra at n.36.

57.) Id. 147.

58.) Joint Submission by Malaysia and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, May 6, 2009, at

59.) Note Verbale CML/17/2009 from the Permanent Mission of the People's Republic of China to the UN Secretary-General (May 7, 2009),

60.) Note Verbale No. 000819 from the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the UN Secretary-General (Aug. 4, 2009), at

61.) Beckman, supra at 149.

62.) UNCLOS Art. 121(1).

63.) Beckman, supra at 150.

64.) UNCLOS Art. 121(3).

65.) Beckman, supra at 150.

66.) UNCLOS Art. 13.

67.) Beckman, supra at 150.

68.) UNCLOS Art. 13(2).

69.) Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions (Qatar v. Bahrain) 1994 I.C.J. 112.

70.) Beckman, supra at 150 citing Qatar v Bahrain para 206.

71.) Id. para 207.

72.) UNCLOS Art. 60(8).

73.) Beckman, supra at 151.

74.) Id.

75.) Id.

76.) Id.

77.) Id.

78.) Id.

79.) Id.

80.) Id.

81.) Id.

82.) Id.

83.) Id.

84.) Id.

85.) CSIS, Tensions In The South China Sea Explained In 19 Maps, Business Insider (Jan. 17, 2015),

86.) China’s Maritime Disputes, Council on Foreign Relations (Feb. 22, 2015),!/?cid=otr-marketing_use-china_sea_InfoGuide.

87.) Id.

88.) Adam Rose, China oil rig to keep drilling in waters disputed with Vietnam, Reuters (Aug. 25, 2015),

89.) Id.

90.) Paul J. Leaf, Learning From China’s Oil Rig Standoff With Vietnam, The Diplomat (Aug. 30, 2014),

91.) Rose, supra.

92.) Leaf, supra.

93.) Ben Blanchard, China moves controversial oil rig back towards Vietnam coast, Reuters (June 26, 2015),

94.) Id.

95.) Id.

96.) Brinda Banerjee, South China Sea: U.S. To Take Stronger Action, Value Walk (Oct. 10, 2015),

97.) Id.

98.) Id.

99.) Remarks by Assistant Secretary of Defense David Shear to the Senate Armed Services Committee at a Hearing on Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy (September 19, 2015),

100.) Trefor Moss, U.S. Military Aircraft Flew Close to China-Built Artificial Islands in South China Sea, Wall Street Journal (Nov. 13, 2015),

101.) Mei Jingya, China sets up Sansha City to administer South China Sea islands, Sina English (June 21, 2012),

102.) Id.

103.) Vietnam Protests China’s Plans for Sansha City Garrison, Bloomberg (July 24, 2012),

104.) UNCLOS Art. 60(8).


106.) Id.

107.) Id.

108.) Gordon Lubold, U.S. Navy Tests China Over Sea Claims, Wall Street Journal (Oct. 27, 2015),

109.) Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, Remarks with Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario After Their Meeting (June 23, 2011), available at

110.) Jeff Smith, The US-China South China Sea Showdown, The Diplomat (Oct. 21, 2015),

111.) Q&A: South China Sea dispute, BBC News (Oct. 27, 2015),

112.) Id.

113.) Lubold, supra.

114.) See generally, United States Department of State Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, Maritime Claims in the South China Sea, Limits in the Seas no. 143 (Dec. 5, 2014),

115.) Q&A: South China Sea dispute, supra.

116.) The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China - Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility, Permanent Court of Arbitration, PCA Case No 2013-19at 33, available at

117.) Shannon Tiezzi, In the Philippines' South China Sea Case, Is International Law on Trial?, The Diplomat (July 14, 2015),

118.) See generally, The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China, supra.

119.) Id. at 149.

120.) The Republic of Nicaragua v. The United States of America 1986 I.C.J. 14

(The Court found in its verdict that the United States was "in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State", "not to intervene in its affairs", "not to violate its sovereignty", "not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce", and "in breach of its obligations under Article XIX of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the Parties signed at Managua on 21 January 1956.”).

121.) Paterno Esmaquel II, "PH lawyer vs China: 'Giant slayer' who defeated US". Rappler (July 11, 2015).

122.) Anthony Deutsch, In defeat for Beijing, Hague court to hear South China Sea dispute, Reuters (Oct. 30, 2015),

123.) Id.

124.) Id.

125.) Ankit Panda, Philippines v. China: Court Rules Favorably on Jurisdiction, Case Will Proceed, The Diplomat (Oct. 30, 2015),

126.) Id.

127.) Lan Nguyen, South China Sea: Philippines v. China, The Diplomat (July 27, 2015),

128.) Greg Torode, China may pay 'international price' in South China Sea legal case, experts say, Reuters (Dec. 1, 2015),

129.) Id.

130.) Beckman, supra at 152.

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