A ruling in The Hague, Netherlands, over South China Sea features has precipitated more tension among claimants, academics said yesterday at a seminar titled “South China Sea Arbitration and Taiwan.”
Among other parts of the ruling, the Permanent Court of Arbitration said that Itu Aba Island (Taiping Island, 太平島) is legally a “rock,” according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Hong Wei-sheng (洪偉勝) an expert on international law said at a seminar that the court gave a thorough and multifaceted explanation of Article 121, Paragraph 3 of the UNCLOS, which states: Land formations that “cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf,” and adopted an extremely rigorous and restricted interpretation of Article 121(3) and set a very high standard for a “fully entitled island.”
Hong said the court was trying to provide for a more peaceful future, saying in its ruling that the “introduction of the exclusive economic zone was not intended to grant extensive maritime entitlements to small features whose historical contribution to human settlement is as slight as that. Nor was the exclusive economic zone intended to encourage states to establish artificial populations in the hope of making expansive claims, precisely what has now occurred in the South China Sea. On the contrary, Article 121(3) was intended to prevent such developments and to forestall a provocative and counterproductive effort to manufacture entitlements.”
National Taiwan University professor of law Chiang Huang-chih (姜皇池) said that while these “egghead judges expected to make some contributions” to regional stability and the rigorous interpretation is consistent with the purpose of Article 121(3), it seems to have stoked regional tensions.
Not only have Taiwan and China contested the ruling, it is also questionable whether the Philippines could completely uphold what the ruling has granted it, Chiang said.
He said that even the US Department of State seems to have backed down slightly from its initial stance indicated in its first response to the ruling on July 12, which said that it created “an important diplomatic opportunity,” because it “significantly narrows the geographic scope of the areas in question.”
“The US has since become more reserved on the issue,” Chiang said.
Perry Shen (申佩璜), former director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Treaty and Legal Affairs, said that the ruling has “solved some, but also created new problems.”
National Chengchi University associate professor of law Chen Chen-ju (陳貞如) said that Article 121 of the UNCLOS, with its deliberate vagueness, is itself a bargained product of the prolonged and heated negotiation in the nine years before the convention was adopted in 1982.
In the 34-year period since its adoption, “there has been no consistent state practice” concerning the article, Chen said.
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