International researchers and experts while attending a recent teleconference reaffirmed the value of the 2016 ruling on the East Sea by the Permanent Court on Arbitration (PCA).
The July 9 teleconference, hosted by the Department of Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Hamburg, attracted speakers from University of Applied Sciences (Bremen), Charles University (Prague), Deutsche Welle (Bonn), and Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (Berlin).
It was held to mark five years after the July 12, 2016 PCA ruling on the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea).
In his opening speech, Prof. Dr. Thomas Engelbert, University of Hamburg, noted that the situation in the East Sea has witnessed tense developments since the ruling was given.
Violations of international law have continued to occur, prompting many countries to voice their objections, he said.
The negotiation process on a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China has been continuously delayed and has not been completed yet.
According to the researcher, the recent times has seen the United States shift its strategic focus to the Indo-Pacific region, while the European Union (EU) and many member states have also shown interest in the region by issuing their own strategies for the Indo-Pacific.
The professor said that amidst tensions in the South China Sea, Japan delivered a diplomatic note to the United Nations early this year, officially rejecting China’s sovereign claims in the East Sea. Similar statements were also made by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States.
Such statements prove that the international community pays great attention to the East Sea, expressing their desire for a safe and stable sea that ensures and facilitate freedom of navigation, said Engelbert.
At the same time, he said the international community always upholds the compliance with international law, and strongly opposes actions that violate the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as well as the PCA’s ruling.
Meanwhile, Professor Suzette Suarez from University of Applied Sciences (Bremen), affirmed that the PCA’s 2016 ruling especially plays a critical role in the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf in the East Sea.
The delineation of the limits of the continental shelf is a binding and mandatory procedure in UNCLOS, and therefore China’s ‘nine-dash line’ and its sovereign claims in the East Sea have absolutely no legal validity, he concluded.
Echoing Professor Suarez’s view, other experts and researchers also highly appreciated the PCA’s 2016 ruling, which they stated has constituted an important legal basis for resolving the East Sea issue. They also suggested that relevant parties should respect international law and not take actions to complicate the situation.
Sharing his view, Dr. Rodion Ebbighausen, managing editor of Deutsche Welle’ Asia Department, said that three EU countries, namely France, Germany and the Netherlands, have put forward a national Indo - Pacific strategy. In April 2021, the Council of the European Union published the “EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo - Pacific”, which will be further developed until the end of 2021.
According to the journalist, in all these documents, which are broad in content, freedom of navigation, the rules-based international order, and in almost all cases, the East Sea are mentioned. At the same time, the EU wants to pursue an inclusive and inclusive approach focusing on peaceful means on the basis of international law.
During the teleconference, researchers affirmed and clarified the position and role of UNCLOS in the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea, and at the same time, reaffirmed the value of the 2016 ruling by the PCA.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled the case Philippines versus China in the East Sea. The ruling, based on the provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea had far-reaching legal results.
It invalidated China’s claims to virtually the whole East Sea, where altogether six countries claim territories. China’s claims based on historic grounds, especially the self-proclaimed ‘nine-dash-line’ of maritime borders, is incompatible with international law.
The PCA ruled, that the waters of the South China Sea beyond the territorial sea were legally part of the high seas, in which vessels from any state could freely navigate and fish.