In late 2019 and early 2020 China announced its “Four-Sha” sovereignty claims over the East Sea in two diplomatic notes sent to the UN Secretary-General,
with the aim of replacing the so-called “nine-dash line” that had been previously rejected by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
Associate Professor and Doctor Vu Thanh Ca, former Director of the Vietnam Institute for Sea and Island Research (Source: laodong.vn)
It claimed in the notes that it holds “undeniable sovereignty” over the Dongsha (Pratas Islands), Xisha (Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago), Nansha (Vietnam’s Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago), and Zhongsha (Macclesfield Bank) Archipelagos.
China said those are archipelagos so it can use the straight baselines to define baselines and waters, adding that these groups of islands have archipelagic waters, territorial waters, 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zones, and continental shelves calculated from the straight baselines.
Many scholars, however, declared that China’s claims are completely contrary to international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Associate Professor and Doctor Vu Thanh Ca, former Director of the Vietnam Institute for Sea and Island Research, said China is not an island state that is formed by one or more archipelagos.
Therefore, he said, drawing a straight baseline to connect islands outside of the four above-mentioned archipelagos runs counter to UNCLOS.
He took the so-called Zhongsha Archipelago (Macclesfield Bank) as an example, saying that the shoal, at a depth of at least 9.2 metres, cannot be the subject of a declaration of sovereignty under the Convention.
Ca quoted scholar and journalist Bill Hayton from the UK’s Chatham House as saying that China made a mistake when translating the words “bank” or “shoal” from English to “island” and “sand-bank” in Chinese. So it then named Macclesfield Bank as “Nansha Archipelago” and then renamed it “Zhongsha Archipelago” in 1947.
China recently included several shoals, such as Scarborough Shoal and St. Esprit Shoal, into the so-called Zhongsha, he said, stressing that the expansion is not persuadable as these shoals are actually located quite far from the Macclesfield Bank.
The 2016 PCA ruling clarified UNCLOS’s “fit for living” concept and stated that islands in the Spratly Archipelago are only rock islands, thus having no exclusive economic zones or continental shelves, Ca said.
Similarly, the Paracel and the Pratas Islands are rock islands without exclusive economic zones or continental shelves.
By using the tactic of making the “Four Sha” claims (Dongsha, Xisha, Nansha, and Zhongsha), China attempted to take advantage of UNCLOS’s terms to rewrite the Convention, he emphasised.
Combined with using its military power to harass and its economic power to bribe countries both inside and outside of the East Sea, China wishes to turn its illogical arguments into reality to monopolize the waters, Ca believes.
Such claims were rejected by Vietnam in its own diplomatic note sent to the UN Secretary-General, in which it resolutely affirmed its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction, and other legitimate rights in the East Sea. Vietnam also asserted that UNCLOS is the only legal basis with comprehensive and thorough regulations on the territorial rights of territorial waters between Vietnam and China./.VNA