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Sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly Archipelagoes

International law and sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes (Part 16)

Part 16: A “bull-tongue line”, an absurdity

On June 15th, 1996, China ratified the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and promulgated the Regulation on the baseline system to calculate the width of territorial waters, including Xisha (Hoàng Sa/Paracels).

In accordance with China’s statement, the baseline adjacent to the Hoàng Sa archipelago includes 28 points, connecting the outermost points of the islands, rocks, submerged banks within the archipelago. With its statement on such a baseline, Beijing has unilaterally expanded China’s territorial waters 7 times over, from 370,000 km2 to 3 million km2, including the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa archipelagos, stirring deep concern across the regional countries.


The nine dotted line map of China is absolutely ungrounded in terms of international legal basis and contrary to the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – Documentary photo

China’s baseline regulation on the Hoàng Sa archipelago has violated two fundamental principles i.e: it is a violation of territorial sovereignty of Vietnam and also a violation of the provisions of international law on drawing the baseline. If the question the territorial sovereignty is to be put aside just to make a technical consideration, the baseline drawn by China in Hoàng Sa fails to respect the spirit and content of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This system of straight baseline connects the outermost points of the islands, the outermost submerged shoals of the islands. Here, China has clearly resorted to the baseline drawing method applied to an archipelagic state (Article 47 of the Convention) to draw the baseline for offshore archipelagoes.

Article 47 stipulates that an archipelagic State may draw straight archipelagic baselines joining the outer points of the farthest islands and rock banks of the archipelago provided that within such baselines are included the main islands and an area in which the ratio of the area of the water to the area of the land, including atolls, is between 1 to 1 and 9 to 1.  The area where the baseline system of China embraces is a vast area of 17.000 km2 area whilst the total area of the floating islands of the Hoàng Sa archipelago is only 10 km2.

On the other hand, most of the rock banks and coral reefs in China’s use are neither suitable for humans to settle down nor do they have a separate economic life of their own. The islands are more than 24 miles from one antoher, without any reason for connecting such baseline segments. Therefore, any sea water to which China has claimed surrounding the sea waters of the rock peaks, coral reefs is technically contrary to the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention.

The fact that China already ratified the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea whilst making such a statement on the baseline of territorial waters shows the contradiction between its standpoint and action. The accession to the Convention and the regulations of the baseline, on the one hand, indirectly reject China’s absurd claims for the so-called ” waters adjacent to the Xisha and Nansha are China’s territories,” or for “the historical waters of China” in the East Sea, as proposed by some Chinese scholars, which implies the indication of the sea within the “bull-tongue” nine dotted line in Chinese maps since late 1940s, on the other hand, it is China’s effort in trying to seek a new international legal and extremely absurd groundwork, in an attempt to maintain a maritime claim which is, in fact, the same as before in the East Sea.

On July 8th, 2010, the permanent Mission of Indonesia at the United Nations lodged a diplomatic note to protest against the diplomatic note dated May 7th, 2009 of China’s permanent Mission to the United Nations concerning the so-called “U-shaped” claim (or nine dotted line claim) in the East Sea.

The diplomatic note of Indonesia is of a great significance because Indonesia is not a state involving in the sovereignty dispute over the East Sea. Indonesia has followed the debate of the parties concerned on the “U-shaped” claim and expressed its standpoint that China has “no clear explanation about the legal basis, the drawing method of as well as the regulation on such dotted line”.

The use of the uninhabited rock islands that are offshore and amid the sea as basic points for claiming sea waters jeopardizes fundamental principles of the 1982 Convention as well as violates the legitimate rights and interests of the international community. The permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations concluded that the nine-dotted map in the diplomatic note  dated May 7th, 2009 of China’s permanent Mission at the UN is absolutely without international legal basis and contrary to the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

By Dr. Nguyễn Hồng Thao

Source: Thanh Nien Daily



One thought on “International law and sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagoes (Part 16)

  1. Dr Thao is absolutely correct in his determination of PRCs archipelegic baseline and PRC use of straight baseline in the Paracels!! China is not an archipelago!!!! PRCs unfounded interpretation of the UNCLOS has no legal basis.

    Posted by Leo Almazan | May 29, 2013, 12:29 am

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