All about a fight for resources

By Liu Nanlai and Fu Yu (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-08-20 16:40
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All about a fight for resources

Liu Nanlai is the member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague and an expert on International Law. He recently shared his views on the South China Sea issue with China Daily's Fu Yu.

Q: Speaking at a regional security gathering in Hanoi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was in Washington's "national interest" to see international settlement of disputes in the South China Sea. What is your opinion on this?

A: The US considers the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as its national interest. From the perspective of international law, the declaration of China's sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea does not affect the freedom of the US vessels and aircraft to enjoy the passage in accordance with international law.

In 1958, China declared the area between the mainland and the islands in the South China Sea as international waters. China would respect freedom of navigation or flight from those countries traversing the South China Sea in accordance with international laws.

In 1988, China again declared that foreign countries enjoy the freedom of navigation or flight in China's exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

However, under the law of the sea, foreign countries are not allowed to gather intelligence with the purpose of endangering China's national security in China's EEZ.

Q: Some foreign media say the Chinese government considers the entire South China Sea as its own. Is this true?

A: Absolutely not, I think it is a misunderstanding of China's policy. China has only declared its sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea and the surrounding waters, but not the entire South China Sea.

The misunderstanding might come from the "dotted line" or "U-shaped line" on China's maps. Some foreign countries believe China uses the U-shaped line to justify its sovereignty. The implications of the original dotted line, drawn by Chinese authorities in 1946, is still a controversial issue among the academics and those different explanations do not represent the China's official claim of the meaning of the dotted line.

Q: How do you define the heart of the South China Sea matter?

A: It's all about the fight for the resources over the areas of South China Sea. The area of South China Sea is an increasingly important conduit for a third of the world's maritime trade and much of the region's energy supplies. Just as compelling are the enormous deposits of oil and natural gas thought to be under the ocean floor.

We should first settle the disputes on ownerships of the islands, principally the Nansha (Spratly) and Xisha (Paracel) island chains and then identify the body of water that extends from those islands.

Q: China has declared its sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea and the surrounding waters. What historical evidence support China's sovereignty?

A: China was the first to discover, name, develop, conduct economic activities and exercise jurisdiction on those islands. There were detailed descriptions of the geographical locations and specific positions of the various islands of the Nansha and Xisha islands in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

In 1939, Japan invaded and occupied the islands of the South China Sea. After World War II, in 1946, in line with the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, the Chinese government took over the islands and erected marks of sovereignty on the islands under the governance of Guangdong province.

In short, a host of historical facts have proved that the Spratly and Paracel island chains have, since ancient times, become an inalienable part of Chinese territory.

Q: The South China Sea issue affects China's relationship with its neighboring countries in different aspects. In your opinion, what should be the proper methods to tackle this problem?

A: The question of the South China Sea is a question between China and the relevant countries. As long as the issue involves land sovereignty, the disputes should be discussed and solved bilaterally. The US used to say it would not be involved with disputes on South China Sea and I hope the US keeps its word. I think the countries should resolve the disputes through peaceful and friendly ways including political consultation and negotiations. In China, we are still discussing the possibilities of settling the disputes through the ways of arbitration or judicial settlement. The Chinese government has also put forward the proposition of "shelving disputes and going in for joint development". China is ready to shelve the disputes for the time being and conduct cooperation with the countries concerned, pending settlement of the disputes.