Mon, Aug 01, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Significant gaps in logic for ruling

By Chen Hurng-yu 陳鴻瑜

On July 12, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands, finally announced its ruling in a South China Sea case the Philippines filed against China. Reactions to the judgement have been sharply polarized, with China and Taiwan firmly opposed, while the US, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam support it. The court’s findings do not just affect various nations’ claims to islands and reefs in the South China Sea; they will also affect the maritime rights of nations whose maritime territorial basepoints and baselines have already been defined based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Regarding the “nine-dash line” claimed by China — or the “11-dash line” claimed by the Republic of China — also known as the “U-shaped line,” the court deemed that China’s claim to historic rights within that line are without lawful effect. This ruling was based on the Philippines’ accusations, not on any official claim by China to have historic rights within the “nine-dash line.”

Until now, Chinese authorities have not published any official written declaration concerning the nature of the maritime territory within the “nine-dash line.” Instead, it has been Chinese academics who claim that China has historic rights within the line.

How can a court make judgements based on claims by academics? In fact, the court made judgements about unproven claims by academics who do not represent official authorities, which shows that the judges failed to adequately distinguish the admissibility of the evidence submitted.

Concerning the status of islands and reefs, some of the court’s opinions are well worth discussing.

First, the arbitrators found that what they called small-scale historic use of the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) by fishermen and Japan’s short-lived fishing and fertilizer extraction activities were all temporary uses that could not give rise to stable human habitation. Accordingly, the judges ruled that the Spratlys are not entitled to exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

However, this interpretation overlooks the historical fact that Chinese fishermen have been active there for hundreds of years — hardly a short-lived economic activity. Chinese fishermen sailed there to catch fish and gather other marine resources, and by digging wells on the islands they were able to live there for extended periods.

Itu Aba (Taiping Island, 太平島), Thitu Island (Jhongye Island, 中業島) and Spratly Island (Nanwei Island, 南威島) are among the islands on which wells dug by Chinese fishermen can be found.

Second, the Spratlys are spread over a very wide area. If one draws a line 200 nautical miles (370km) west of the Philippines’ Palawan Island, the following islands fall within it: Gaven Reef (Nansyun Reef, 南薰礁), Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef, 美濟礁), Subi Reef (Jhubi Reef, 渚碧礁) and Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島), all of which are occupied by China; Itu Aba, occupied by Taiwan; and Sandy Cay (Duncian Shajhou, 敦謙沙洲), Namyit Island (Hongsiou Island, 鴻庥島), Sin Cowe Island (Jinghong Island, 景宏島) and Pearson Reef (Bisheng Island, 畢生礁), occupied by Vietnam.

However, Northeast Cay (Beizih Reef, 北子礁), occupied by the Philippines, Southwest Cay (Nanzih Reef, 南子礁), occupied by Vietnam and Swallow Reef (Tanwan Reef, 彈丸礁), occupied by Malaysia, lie outside this area.

Thus, many of the islands and reefs in the Spratly archipelago are not within the Philippines’ EEZ, nor are all the islands and reefs that the judges deem to be claimed by China.

This story has been viewed 3854 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top