The past year has witnessed a number of countries send notes to the UN rejecting China’s claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, locally known as the East Sea, and demanding the peaceful settlement of the dispute in accordance to international law.
Vietnam's Parecel islands illegally occupied by China. (Photo: AFP)
Malaysia initially started the campaign in December, 2019 by submitting information on the limits of the continental shelf and the territory of the South China Sea to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
Soon after, other regional countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, as well as the United States and Australia, all sent notes and letters protesting China’s invalid claims in the South China Sea.
Most recently, three European states, namely the United Kingdom, France, and Germany also sent a joint note verbale expressing their common view to the UN regarding the South China Sea issue.
The joint note verbale either directly or indirectly refers to the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in a court case initiated by the Philippines which opposed China’s unreasonable expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea.
It is therefore not by chance that the US, Australia, and the three European states have also had their say on the South China Sea issue. The move marks clear proof that the South China Sea is an issue not only between ASEAN and China, but also among other countries worldwide. This is largely due to the sea’s importance to regional and global security and development.
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh says all sea-related disputes must be settled according
to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982).
Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh, former Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, told media on the sidelines of the 12tth international conference on the South China Sea held in Hanoi on November 16-17 that countries have a common perspective on the issue.
“In their notes, most countries emphasise the importance of international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) in settling sea-related disputes. This means all actions at sea, including sovereign claims, must be based on the UNCLOS 1982.”
“Currently, ASEAN and China are promoting consultations on the formulation of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). But any COC document in the future must be based on international law and UNCLOS 1982”, former Deputy Minister Vinh stressed.
Many scholars on the South China Sea affirmed that there is no special regulation that permits countries to unilaterally draw straight baselines around groups of islands and offshore archipelagos as China has done. Indeed, the UNCLOS 1982 sets out a universal and comprehensive value, the scope of which covers all matters at sea.
According to Pham Lan Dung, acting director of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam,
the South China Sea issues is a test for exercising the rule of law at sea.
Pham Lan Dung, acting director of the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, emphasised that the South China Sea currently plays a pivotal role in regional strategy and in the relations of several major countries.
“It is a test for efforts to maintain peace, stability, and co-operation in the region, and at the same time a test for the upholding of the law and rules-based order,” said Dung.
By sending various notes to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, countries are openly and formally expressing their views about the South China Sea issue, in which they are underlining the importance of international law, including the UNCLOS 1982 to settle sea-related disputes.
“By doing so, Vietnam has also rejected unreasonable claims, such as drawing a baseline around the Spratly and Paracel islands, or rejected claims for the waters around the islands or groups of islands which are contrary to international law," said Dung.
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