South Asia and Beyond

ASEAN Split: Coordinating Responses To China’s Unlawful Maritime Claims

NEW DELHI: On ‘The Gist‘, Bill Hayton, Author of ‘The Invention of China’, ‘South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia’, Associate Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House and Broadcast journalist, BBC World News TV in conversation with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi.

This episode discusses Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency’s invitation to officials from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam to a meeting in February to discuss how to respond to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea(SCS), the U.S. State Department’s ‘Limits in the Seas’ report that dismisses China’s ‘unlawful maritime claims’ in the SCS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the PRC divide and rule policy in ASEAN, Cambodia’s chairing ASEAN, the Philippines being set to become the first third-country importer for the land-based version of the India-Russia BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, whether India is emerging as a defence supplier and strategic partner to Southeast Asian nations – from the Philippines to Indonesia to Vietnam – which have been at the forefront of maritime disputes with a resurgent China and whether the deal can be a springboard for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) between India, the U.S., Japan and Australia to enhance the deterrence capacity of smaller powers in the Indo-Pacific.

China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, practically most of it if not all, has been a constant source of friction with the littoral states. Many of them are now pushing back, saying they have had enough. The United States in a recent report has dismissed most of China’s claims and asked it to abide by international law. On ‘The Gist’, Associate Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Programme, Chatham House and broadcast journalist, BBC World News TV, throws light on the nub of the discord. He was in conversation with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi.

Given below is the transcript:

Unfortunately, China while in one breath is saying we support UNCLOS, at the same time they are saying we want things that go beyond UNCLOS. And the whole point of UNCLOS, this treaty, was to get rid of any other, older historic claims as it were. And to say these are the international rules for dividing up the fish, the oil and the gas. But around the time China was debating the ratification of UNCLOS back in the mid-1990s, it came under the influence of a professor from Taiwan who had very strange ideas about what he called historic rights: that China should have the right to every fish, every drop of oil within the nine dash line. This nine dash line was drawn originally with eleven dashes in 1948. And at that time, it only meant this is our claim to the rocks and reefs, to the islands. And even that was disputed. In the 1990s, a couple of Taiwan-based professors came up with the idea that this line should actually indicate claim to all the resources of the sea and came up with the idea that these were historic rights. Unfortunately, this claim was then incorporated into Chinese law, its law on the exclusive economic zone in 1998. So ever since then, it has had this real problem that China has claimed rights that go beyond UNCLOS and that really is the cause of the disputes to oil, gas and fishing. If that wasn’t there, then you could limit the disputes to who owns the rocks and the reefs and that would be less serious. So it’s really messed up the South China Sea, this historic rights claim.

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