Maintaining peace and tranquility in the South China Sea

By Shen Dingli
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 2, 2015
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Lately the US has issued some pointed remarks in regard to China's reclamation activity on some of its islands in South China Sea. It is not impossible to understand some of the American apprehension, especially over how China would use its expanded capacity. For long the US has been keen on the freedom of flight and navigation in international space and water and could be wary of the implication of China's reclamation. Such issues have prompted both countries to set up some 90 official mechanisms to channel respective concerns and to promote cooperation. The upcoming S&ED in June and the following summit in September in New York are top-level dialogues for such exchanges.

In this regard, it is unhelpful to issue threats by challenging China's buildup of islands through sending American warships or spy planes into the airspace and those waters within 12 nm of the expanded islands. It is upsetting that the Pentagon dispatched its Poseidon P-8A naval reconnaissance plane to some of these reclaimed islands on May 20.

International law has not prohibited the reclamation of land or islands from the sea. For instance, Shanghai has expanded greatly since the Song Dynasty by reclaiming land from the sea. Songjiang, now a part of internal land here, used to be coastal many centuries ago. Such reclamation has been continuing all the time – Japan has built Kansai International Airport through reclamation, Hong Kong has done similarly for its current airport, and Dubai has engineered its famous World Islands projects for leisure purposes. Certainly they have expanded their territory and gained associate benefits. Contemporary international maritime law doesn't disallow such activities.

Maritime reclamation has been a part of our life. For a long time, Japan has been fortifying the Okinotori Islands and demanded an exclusive economic zone derived from its fortified structure. However, America has been silent on this. For a similarly long time, Vietnam has reclaimed and expanded some of the islands of the Spratly under its occupation, earlier than China is doing. Again, America has made no objection.

It shall be noted that China and Vietnam have disputes over some of these islands in South China Sea. China has claimed that it owns all islands/islets on its side of the U-shaped line and it thought that decades ago Vietnam had agreed with China's claim, made at the time when Hanoi needed China's support to its independence and unification fight with France and the US. Last year China submitted to the UN its evidence of Vietnam's past admission of China's sovereignty over the entire Spratly and Paracel islands. China has difficulty with Vietnam's negating its past commitment and present occupation oj some of them and subsequent reclamation.

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