Increasingly contested waters? Conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea
Director Of Research, Australian National Centre For Ocean Resources And Security (ANCORS),University Of Wollongong
What does appear to have changed in recent years is that there has been a significant escalation in tensions in the South China Sea. In particular, in recent years a series of incidents have occurred involving Chinese maritime surveillance and enforcement agencies and Chinese-flagged fishing vessels in waters closer to the proximate mainland and main island coastlines than to the nearest disputed islands. Such actions appear to be based on the nine-dashed line, rather than maritime claims in line with the terms of UNCLOS advanced from the disputed islands. Incidents have included enforcement activities related to fisheries jurisdiction, for example with respect to waters that Indonesia considers to form part of its EEZ, as well as interventions to disrupt oil and gas survey and exploration activities conducted by Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in their respective coastal waters. Moreover, in June 2012 the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) issued tenders for oil concessions in close proximity to the Vietnamese coastline, yet just within the nine-dashed line.
These incidents appear in part to have arisen as certain South China Sea coastal states, notably Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have sought to undertake activities in what they consider to be their waters, proximate to their mainland and main island coasts. These states appear to have taken the view that those parts of the South China Sea closer to their undisputed territories than to any disputed feature in the South China Sea are undisputed. It is increasingly apparent that China disagrees. Worryingly, China not only appears resistant to such efforts to restrict or minimise the area of the South China Sea subject to dispute, but is also apparently increasingly willing to back up its assertions with enforcement actions on those waterways, apparently up to the limits of the nine-dashed line which encompasses the vast majority of the South China Sea. It also remains open to question whether recent efforts on the part of the Philippines to initiate arbitral proceedings with China under Annex VII of UNCLOS on a number of uncertainties in the Chinese position, including the status of the nine-dashed line assertion and the status and role of certain South China Sea insular features, will bear fruit. Consequently, for the foreseeable future the South China Sea states are indeed faced with increasingly contested waters.
Read the full text at http://nsc.anu.edu.au/documents/occasional-5-brief-2.pdf