Miriam: China 9-dash line has no legal basis

Posted at 03/12/14 2:59 PM

MANILA - Senator Miriam Santiago believes China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea has no legal basis.

"In my view, as a very humble student of international law, there is absolutely no basis for China and in fact she’s not advancing any legal reason for her actuations in what she calls the South China Sea and what we call as the West Philippine Sea. I would like to know from any representative or spokesperson of China: what is your legal basis?” she told reporters after presiding over a hearing of her committee on foreign affairs under the Commission on Appointments that deliberated on the appointments of diplomats.

“The nine-dash claim is not one of the legal bases recognized by contemporary international law. You cannot just uncover your own historic documents so-called, and then base a claim on historic rights. Besides, that is no longer recognized by the UNCLOS, to which China is a party. So I would say that there is compete confusion on what China is doing because we no longer have any legal basis to proceed from.”

Santiago believes that China is after the resources of the disputed territory.

“In my layman’s view, the real interest of China is not in the fishing rights or the ownership of these little shoals and pieces of rock. Her real interest lies in economic resources, in the deep seabed of the ocean floor,” she said.

“That is why China keeps on insisting that we must have one-on-one negotiations concerning the resources and the development and exploitation of those resources within Southeast Asia. It does not accept the position of the ASEAN that there should be a collective position on one hand among the ASEAN members and China on the other hand. We want an ASEAN to China negotiation on these territorial claims. She’s always insisting one-on-one because as the saying goes, ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’”

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have territorial claims across a waterway that provides 10 per cent of the global fisheries catch and carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade. Half the world's shipping tonnage traverses its sea lanes.

Maritime lawyers note Beijing routinely outlines the scope of its claims with reference to the so-called nine-dashed line that takes in about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometer South China Sea on Chinese maps.

This vague boundary was first officially published on a map by China's Nationalist government in 1947 and has been included in subsequent maps issued under Communist rule.

While Beijing has no difficulty in producing historical evidence to support its territorial links to many islands and reefs, less material is available to show how it arrived at the nine-dashed line.

In a September 2008 U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing reported that a senior Chinese government maritime law expert, Yin Wenqiang, had "admitted" he was unaware of the historical basis for the nine dashes.

In a March, 2008 cable, the embassy reported that a senior Chinese diplomat, Zheng Zhenhua, had handed over a written statement when asked about the scope of this boundary.

"The dotted line of the South China Sea indicates the sovereignty of China over the islands in the South China Sea since ancient times and demonstrates the long-standing claims and jurisdiction practice over the waters of the South China Sea," the statement said, the embassy reported. With Reuters