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Examine China's Claim over Spratlys

Examine China's Claim over Spratlys

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Published by drtd2002
Expose the weakness of Chinese claim of sovereignty of Spratlys
Expose the weakness of Chinese claim of sovereignty of Spratlys

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: drtd2002 on Jun 15, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Examine China's Claim to the Spratly Islands
China claims both the Paracel Islands in the north and the Spratly Islands in the southern sector of the South China Sea.
Its claim to the islands is based on historical usage, its ship captainshaving sailed across the South China Sea 2,000 years ago and having used the Sea as aregular navigational route during the Han dynasty (206-220 A.D.)."
As Chinese voyages increased in frequency and range during the T'ang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.), sodid Chinese awareness of the Spratlys.From the 12th through the 17th centuries,
Chinese records made occasional reference to theislands and their "sandy banks,"
including maps displaying elevations. During this period,
Chinaviewed "itself as the centre of a universal state"
which "oversaw a hierarchy of tributarystates. From this perspective, it had no reason to make any formal claim of sovereignty. This uniquely-Chinese view of social organization presents problems for the modem analysis of a"sovereignty" claim. As one commentator has observed:Chinese legal and political thought, reflecting the influence of the Confucian ethic, conceives of thearea over which
a State, or "kuo,"
had sovereignty, not as a function of legal limits, but
as one of social organization, history and the loyalty of subjects.The Emperor ruled men and not space;
the area of rule was defined as points of humanresidence and use
. Thus, the delineation of 
the scope of territorial sovereignty wasexpressed in terms of zones of influence rather than by definite linear boundaries.
Sorting out the merits of China's historic links to the Spratlys in relation to Vietnam's historic links tothe islets is particularly challenging
because China asserted dominance over Vietnam duringthis period as well.China's presence in the Spratly area is more consistently documented from the 19thcentury onward
Tombstones and household utensils from Emperor Tongzhi's reign of 1862-75
have been found on the islands.
 Traders from Hainan exchanged rice and other necessities for trepang and tortoise shellswith fishers visiting the islands.
In 1876, the first formal act of a sovereignty claim was made, when China's ambassador toEngland claimed the Paracel Islands as Chinese territory, and, in 1883, a German surveyteam on the Spratly Islands was expelled by the Chinese.
An 1887 boundary treaty between France and China
allocated all the islands east of 108 degrees, 43 minutes east of Greenwich (or 105 degrees 43 minutes east of Paris) to China
(which would cover all the Spratlys if the line were extended indefinitely tothe south), but this basis for China's claim is weak because the treaty does not name anyislands and
France later argued that this line covered only the northern part of theSouth China Sea.
China itself, in fact, rejects the view that the line can be takenliterally, because it would give Vietnam more area in the Gulf of Tonkin thanChina is prepared to concede.
In 1907, China sent a senior military team to survey the South China Sea Islands.
In 1917, a Japanese company began exploiting some of the guano deposits on the Spratlyislets. Then, in the early 1930s
, France made a formal claim to seven of the "larger"Spratly features, and to some extent exercised actual physical control of theSpratlys.
By the late 1930s, Japan had established a strong presence there, using Itu Aba as asubmarine basing area to intercept shipping through the region.
In 1945, at the end of World War II, Japan left the area and in Article 2 of the Treaty of Peacesigned in 1951, Japan renounced all "right, title and claim to ... the Spratly Islands. Chinacites this statement as proof of the legitimacy of its historic claim to the islets,
eventhough the treaty does not assign the islands to any specific country.
China was militarily weak during this period and preoccupied with its own domestic turmoil,and thus did not have the capacity to patrol and protect the Spratlys vigilantly. It has,however, been relatively consistent in protesting the claims made by other nations,including in recent years the claims of the Philippines, SouthVietnam, reunited Vietnam, andMalaysia.
In recent years,China has asserted its claim to the islands with military force, engaging inskirmishes with Vietnam on several occasions. The
most dramatic battle took place inMarch 1988, when China sank three Vietnamese vessels, killing 72 Vietnamese,and took control of Fiery Cross Reef (Yung Shu Jiao).
Fiery Cross Reef is about 14 nmilong. U.S. Defense Mapping Agency charts indicate that it is submerged at high tide in itsnatural state, 47 but other sources claim it has one rock at its southwest end that is aboutthe size of a table and is 0.6 meter above water at high tide. This reef has been convertedinto an artificial island and now contains a supply base, a helipad, a 300-meter pier capableof handling 4,000-ton ships, and an ultramodem oceanographic observation station that canreceive and transmit messages through satellites and provide vital meteorological data topassing aircraft and ships.
 The other features occupied by China are Cuarteron Reef (Huayang Jiao) (coral rocks, saidby some to reach a height of 1.5 meters), Gaven Reef (Nanxun Jiao (northern part) andDuolu Jiao (southern part)) (reported to contain a 2-meter-high sand dune), Johnson Reef (Chigua Jiao), Subi Reef (Zhubi Jiao) (above water only at low tide), Kerman Reef (Dongmen Jiao), Loaita Cay, and North Danger Reefs (Shuangzi Jiao or Gongshi Jiao),'o and - as of July4, 1992 - Whitson Reef (Niue Jiao).
Although some reports indicate that some of these features have small portions sticking upabove water at high tide, other reports indicate that none of them are high-tide elevationsin their natural state. On Johnson South Reef,
the Chinese have built an elevated fort-like structure, with a long matshed to house the troops and sailors stationedthere
One commentator estimated in 1993 that
the PRC had about 260 troops stationed onnine separate reefs."
China has asserted that it has no soldiers stationed in the Spratlys,only civilian personnel operating weather and communications stations.
Indeed China claims
its weather station was established under the auspices of theWorld Meteorological Association, which denied sanctioning the installation.
 The culmination of these claims and activities was China's promulgation of its
"Law of thePeople's Republic of China on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone"
issuedon February 25, 1992, which in Article 2 specifically identifies the Nansha (Spratly) Islandsas Chinese territory.
Weaknesses in China's Claim to the Spratly Islands
Chinese authors claim that China has met the requirements found in the Isle of Palmasarbitration by effectively exercising sovereignty over the Spratly islets without challenge forcenturies until the French intrusion in 1933.
Most non-Chinese commentators
have concluded, however,
that China's claim thatthe South China Sea islands have "always been part of Chinese territory, is weak.
China's exercise of authority over the islands was only occasional and sporadic up throughthe end of World War II. One commentator has summarized the evidence as follows:Ancient records are sparse, incomplete, and
do not provide compelling evidence of routine occupation, effective administration, or assertion of sovereign control 
. The claim that the islands were exclusively Chinese is further weakened by
an official Chinese government report published in 1928 that shows the southernmost delineation of Chinese territory as the Xisha Islands (Paracels
) and
makes nomention of the Nansha (Spratly) islands
China's claim to have exercised its authority continuously is similarly weak. China did notexhibit a regular pattern of behavior or repetition of the same or similar activities until the1970s, when it started regularly asserting itself against Vietnam and the Philippines.
As mentioned above, a Japanese company fished in the Spratly area and exploited theguano deposits in 1917, apparently without Chinese protest. Later, in the 1930s, the Frenchmoved into the area, followed by the Japanese.
This undisputed break in the continuityof China's historical chain certainly weakens its claim.
Chinese scholars respond by
arguing that China was not familiar with Westerninternational law principles and procedures until the nineteenth century
, that

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