European powers reject China's South China Sea claims

By Phan Anh   September 17, 2020 | 10:40 pm PT
European powers reject China's South China Sea claims
Satellite photo dated March 19, 2018 shows Fiery Cross Reef of Spratly Islands. Photo by Planet Labs Inc/Handout via Reuters.
The U.K., France and Germany have reaffirmed that China’s exercise of so-called "historic rights" in the South China Sea does not comply with international law.

Their views were expressed in a joint note verbale sent to the United Nations (U.N.) with regard to a series of diplomatic letters and notes from China to the U.N. since last year, in which it claimed to have sovereignty over several entities on the South China Sea and to have "historic rights" in the South China Sea, among other maritime claims.

In the Wednesday note verbale, the U.K., France and Germany, as State Parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), reaffirmed that the integrity of UNCLOS needs to be maintained, and underlined the importance of unhampered exercise of the freedom of the high seas, in particular the freedom of navigation and overflight.

They also stated that there was no legal ground for continental states to treat archipelagos or marine features as a whole entity, emphasizing the specific and exhaustive conditions set forth in UNCLOS for the application of straight and archipelagic baselines. They stressed that land building activities or other forms of artificial transformation cannot change the classification of a feature under UNCLOS.

China has attempted to claim most of the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, by claiming baselines and internal waters between island groups, going so far as building artificial islands and militarizing maritime features in several Southeast Asian countries’ territories, including Vietnam's Paracel and Spartly Islands in the East Sea.

France, Germany and the U.K. also highlighted that claims with regard to the exercise of "historic rights" over the South China Sea waters do not comply with international law and UNCLOS provisions, citing a verdict by the Hague tribunal in 2016 which stated that China's claims to "historic rights" under its so-called nine-dash-line are contrary to U.N. convention.

The three countries’ joint note verbale is the latest response from other countries regarding China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. In July, the U.S. also rejected China’s claims to most of the South China Sea, saying Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its bullying campaign to control them.

"Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right’," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a July press statement.

China has taken a series of provocative actions in the waters since the beginning of this year as countries around the world were focused on battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

It formed the so-called ‘Xisha’ and ‘Nansha’ districts in Vietnam’s Paracel and Spratly Islands, sank Vietnamese fishing vessels off the Paracels, unilaterally issued a fishing ban and sent a ship to harass a Malaysian oil and gas exploration vessel, among others.

Vietnam has repeatedly protested and urged China to desist from provocative, illegal actions that undermine peace and stability in the East Sea.

The country has many times asserted that it has full legal basis and historical evidence to affirm its sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands in accordance with international law, and all activities on islands must receive Vietnam’s approval.

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