Last update 6/29/2011 8:34:38 PM (GMT+7)

Positive signs from conference on the East Sea in USA
VietNamNet Bridge – Positive signs of a solution based on international laws and actual situation for the East Sea disputes flashed at the international conference on the East Sea held in Washington, USA on June 20-21.

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The two-day conference, held by The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), gathered many government officials, scholars and experts from many countries, including India, Indonesia, Norway, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, China, Singapore and Vietnam.

The conference discussed topics of great concerns in Vietnam and the world, such as: the interest and the standpoint of related parties in the East Sea, the recent incidents in the East Sea, the effectiveness of current mechanisms to ensure security in the East Sea and recommendations on policies to strengthen security in this region.

The theoretical point of Chinese scholars at the conference is: though China has enough evidences for its sovereignty over the East Sea, China does not take part in managing and exploiting natural resources in this area. Meanwhile, other countries, under the assistance of outside countries, have implemented many acts that violate China’s interests. China would not use force to solve the situation though Chinese people are very discontented. The temporary solution is putting aside sovereignty disputes to explore natural resources together.

This viewpoint is not new. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates the exploration of natural resources together as a temporary solution for disputes, while related parties cannot divide the border for their overlapping waters. Vietnam and some Southeast Asian countries have applied this solution in some cases before they reach agreement on sea boundaries.

However, China’s proposal of exploration the East Sea together is not supported by related countries because of its vague and groundless claims of sovereignty over the East Sea.

At the conference, Chinese delegates continued to adduce the U-shape line as historical claims and the principles to define the waters and continental shelf in the UNCLOS to confirm China’s sovereignty in the East Sea.

When scholars from other countries questioned Chinese delegates about the legal foundation of the U-shape line, and asked them to make clear China’s viewpoint in applying the UNCLOS to define China’s waters and continental shelf in the East Sea, they did not get the answer.

Not only scholars from Southeast Asian countries but those from other countries agreed that China’s U-shape line has no grounds in the UNCLOS, and if China sees that line as the border for its waters in the East Sea, no country in the world could accept it.

They pointed out that China cannot use the U-shape line to claim its rights for natural resources in the East Sea, or to make overlap areas in the waters and continental shelf of other countries.

International scholars said that the key for any peaceful solution for the East Sea disputes is to define the real disputed areas.

According to them, the real disputed areas are the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos and neighboring waters to the two archipelagos’ geological structures. The neighboring waters to geological structures of these archipelagos must be based on the UNCLOS and international legal precedents related to sea demarcation.

Once related countries reach agreement on the principle to define disputed areas as above, they can zone the disputed areas for implementing trust-building measures or temporary solutions that are accepted by all involving parties. The management and exploration of natural resources in the waters outside the disputed areas must observe to the UNCLOS.


Some initiatives were introduced at the conference. A researcher from Vietnam’s Institute for International Relations suggested to compile a Code of Conduct in the East Sea, which stipulates permitted and unpermitted acts in the disputed areas and the behaviors in undisputed areas.

The key point of the Code of Conduct is all related parties cannot make claims of waters and continental shelf that are not based on the UNCLOS; the waters of the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos must be fixed based on Article 121 of the UNCLOS; the compilation of the Code of Conduct may be done by China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or by the ASEAN, which is then opened for other countries’ joining.

The representative of the ASEAN Secretariat said that ASEAN agreed to compile the Code of Conduct in the East Sea, which has higher legal value that the current Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea, which was signed in 2002 by China and ASEAN.

Prof. Carl Thayer from Australia said that though it is not popular, such a Code of Conduct should be signed by ASEAN countries and opens it for the participation of countries that have interest the East Sea.

An official from the Philippines’ Committee on Marine and Oceanic Issues introduced the initiative on the region of peace, freedom, friendship and development.

Accordingly, two mechanisms will be applied in the East Sea: cooperation for mutual development, which includes exploring natural resources, preserving the sea together, in the disputed areas related to the Spratly Islands and the mechanism for management and exploration of undisputed areas of coastal countries under the UNCLOS.

The Philippine official confirmed that to temporarily put aside disputes, it is necessary to zone the disputed areas. Based on the UNCLOS, the waters created by geological structures of the two disputed archipelagos are very limited and can be fixed, for example 12 nautical miles.

These are positive signs for a solution for the East Sea disputes, which is based on international law, the actual situation and the legal interests of coastal countries and the countries that use the East Sea.

Such a solution will surely attract the support of the international community, because it allows to fix the disputed areas where conflicts may be put aside for exploration of natural resources together, and the areas under the jurisdiction of coastal countries and the legal rights of other countries in the East Sea, while the solution for sovereignty division is not reached in disputed areas.

It is hoped that all countries in the East Sea, especially those involving in the disputes, will maintain diplomatic efforts to reach such a solution.

Ha Linh (from Washington)