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Merits Award Relating to Historic Rights in the South China Sea Arbitration: An Appraisal

  • Xinmin MA (a1)
Abstract

This paper provides an assessment of the Tribunal’s Award on the merits relating to the Philippines’ Submissions No. 1 and 2. First, it argues that the Convention is not the sole legal source of maritime rights. Second, the Tribunal erroneously infers from Article 311 that the Convention prevails over customary international law. Meanwhile, Article 293 does not terminate rules of general international law that are incompatible with the Convention. Third, the Tribunal, by deciding that historic rights under general international law have been superseded by the regimes of exclusive economic zone and continental shelf established under the Convention, fails to draw a distinction between the two separate legal regimes, namely the Convention and general international law. Fourth, as one of the “matters not regulated by the Convention”, historic rights should be governed by, and have been well established in, general international law.

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The author is the Vice President of the Chinese Society of Law of the Sea and the Vice President of the Asian Society of International Law. This paper reflects only the views of the author in his personal capacity.

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1. Submission No. 1: China’s maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, like those of the Philippines, may not extend beyond those expressly permitted by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS” or the “Convention”); Submission No. 2: China’s claims to sovereign rights jurisdiction, and to “historic rights”, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the so-called “nine-dash line” are contrary to the Convention and without lawful effect to the extent that they exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements expressly permitted by UNCLOS. See Memorial of the Philippines, Vol.I, [30 March 2014] at 271.

2. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force 16 November 1994) [UNCLOS].

3. Award of 12 July 2016, PCA Case No. 2013-19 (the Philippines v. China), para. 245 [Award of 12 July 2016].

4. Ibid., para. 261.

5. Higgins holds that general international law refers to customary rules, and also includes general principles of law. See Higgins, Rosalyn, The Development of International Law Through the Political Organs of the United Nations (London: Oxford University Press, 1963) at 1. See also Tunkin, Grigory, “Is General International Law Customary Law Only?” (1993) 4 European Journal of International Law 534 ; Aust, Anthony, Handbook of International Law, 2nd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) at 9; Jennings, Robert, “What is International Law and How Do We Tell It When We See It?” (1981) 37 Swiss Yearbook of International Law at 59 .

6. McDorman, Ted L., “Rights and Jurisdiction over Resources in the South China Sea: UNCLOS and the Nine-Dash Line” in S. Jayakumar, Tommy Koh, and Robert Beckman, eds., The South China Sea Disputes and Law of the Sea (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014), 144 at 153.

7. Treves, Tullio, “UNCLOS at Thirty: Open Challenges” (2013) 27 Ocean Yearbook 49 at 50.

8. O’Connell, Daniel P., The International Law of the Sea: Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982) at 425.

9. UNCLOS, preamble, para. 8.

10. Wood, Michael, “The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and General International Law” (2007) 22 International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law 351 at 359.

11. M/V “Saiga”, No.2 Case (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines v. Guinea), Judgment of 1 July 1999, [1999] I.T.L.O.S. Rep. 1999 at para. 96.

12. Barbados v. Trinidad and Tobago, Award of the Arbitral Tribunal Concerning the Maritime Boundary between Barbados and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago [11 April 2006] PCA Case No. 2004-02, para. 222.

13. Treves, supra note 7 at 50.

14. Award of 12 July 2016, supra note 3 at para. 238.

15. Three exceptions are: (a) the rights and obligations under other treaties which are compatible with the Convention remain unaffected (see UNCLOS, art. 311(2)); (b) States Parties are permitted to conclude supplementary agreements compatible with the Convention (see UNCLOS, art. 311(3)(4)); and (c) international agreements expressly permitted or preserved by other articles of the Convention remain unaffected (see UNCLOS, art. 311(5)).

16. Award of 12 July 2016, supra note 3 at para. 235.

17. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 23 May 1969, 8 I.L.M. 679 (entered into force 27 January 1980), art. 30.

18. Pemmaraju, Sreenivasa Rao, “The South China Sea Arbitration (The Philippines v. China): Assessment of the Award on Jurisdiction and Admissibility” (2016) 15 Chinese Journal of International Law 265 at 293, para. 54.

19. Aldo CHIRCOP, “Gidel’s ‘Safety Valve’: The Anglo-Norwegian Case, 1951 and the Doctrine of Historic Waters Revisited” in Chinese Society of International Law and Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, eds., Public International Law Colloquium on Maritime Disputes Settlement: Proceedings (Hong Kong: Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, 2016), 340 at 356–7.

20. Thirlway, Hugh, “The Law and Procedure of the International Court of Justice” (1989) 60 British Yearbook of International Law 13 at 147.

21. Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America), Merits, Judgment, [1986] I.C.J. Rep. 1986 at 14, para. 179.

22. NORDQUIST, Myron H., ed., United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982: A Commentary, Vol. I (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1985) at 457.

23. Dörr, Oliver and Schmalenbach, Kirsten, eds., Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: A Commentary (New York: Springer, 2012) at 16; see also Villiger, M.E., Commentary on 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2009) at 51.

24. See Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising from Diversification and Expansion of International Law ILC, Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission, UN Doc. A/CN.4/L.682 (2006), at 73–4, 146–8; Addendum of Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission, UN Doc. A/CN.4/L.682/Add.1 (2006), at 5–6, 10–15. See also Thirway, Hugh, “The Sources of International Law” in M.D. Evans, ed., International Law, 4th edn. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), at 91–117, 109.

25. Award of 12 July 2016, supra note 3 at para. 243.

26. Ibid., para. 244.

27. Ibid., paras. 246–7.

28. Kopela, Sophia, “Historic Titles and Historic Rights in the Law of the Sea in the Light of the South China Sea Arbitration” (2017) 48 Ocean Development & International Law 181 at 186.

29. Ibid.

30. See The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, A/CONF.19/C.1/SR.2, pp. 40–1, paras. 12–22.

31. See The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, A/ CONF.19/C.1/SR.8, p. 70, para. 41; The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, A/ CONF.19/C.1/SR.15, p. 99, para. 29; The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, A/ CONF.19/C.1/SR.24, p. 113, para. 7.

32. Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Judgment, [1982] I.C.J. Rep. at 18, para. 100.

33. Kopela, supra note 28 at 10.

34. Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), supra note 32, Separate Opinion by Judge Jimenez de Arechaga, para. 82.

35. See Shabtai ROSENNE, “Historic Waters in the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea”, in T.D. Gill and W.P. Heere, eds., Reflections on Principles and Practice of International Law (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 2000), at 497–511, 501–504.

36. Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), supra note 32.

37. Ibid.

38. Keyuan ZOU, “The Applicability of the Concept of Historic Rights in Contemporary International Law” in Chinese Society of International Law and Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, supra note 19 at 326–39, 330–5, citing Eritrea-Yemen Arbitration Award, Phase I: Territorial Sovereignty and Scope of Dispute, 9 October 1998, [1998] para. 2, and the practice of Sri Lanka, India, and Tunisia.

39. UNCLOS, arts. 10, 15.

40. Award of 12 July 2016, supra note 3, para. 225.

41. See Territorial Sovereignty and Scope of the Dispute (Eritrea and Yemen), 9 October 1998, RIAA. vol. XXII, p. 239, para. 106. See also supra note 35 at 497–8.

42. Andrea GIOIA, “Historic Titles” in Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, para.19, online: <http://opil.ouplaw.com/home/EPIL>.

43. Kopela, supra note 28 at 8.

44. Blum, Yehuda Z., Historical Title in International Law (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1965) at 311, 315.

45. Kopela, supra note 28 at 8.

46. Award of 12 July 2016, supra note 3, para. 225.

47. Ibid., para. 226.

48. McDorman, supra note 6 at 152.

49. Chircop, supra note 19 at 340.

50. Juridical Regime of Historic Waters, Including Historic Bays, Doc. A/CN.4/143, Yearbook of International Law Commission (1962), Vol. II, pp. 13–19, paras. 80–133; Symmons, Clive R., Historic Waters in the Law of the Sea: A Modern Re-Appraisal (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008) 111 .

51. Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Judgment, I.C.J. Reports 1982, p. 74, para.100.

52. Blum, Yehuda Z., “Historic Rights” in Rudolf BERNHARDT, ed., Encyclopaedia of Public International Law, Instalment, Vol. 7 (Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Co., 1984), at 120.

53. de Visscher, Charles, Theory and Relatity in Public International Law (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968) 209 .

54. The Island of Palmas Case (or Miangas) (United States of America v. The Netherlands), Award of 4 April 1928, 14.

55. Award of 12 July 2016, supra note 3, para. 225.

56. Historic Bays: Memorandum by the Secretariat of the United Nations, 30 September 1957, UN Doc. A/CONF.13/1 (1957), para. 8; Juridical Regime of Historic Waters Including Historic Bays—Study Prepared by the Secretariat, 9 March 1962, UN Doc. A/CN.4/143 (1962), para. 34.

57. Maritime Zones Law of Sri Lanka, No. 22 of 1 September 1976.

58. Agreement Between Sri Lanka and India on the Maritime Boundary Between the Two Countries in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal and Related Matters, 23 March 1976.

59. Judical Regime of Historic Waters Including Historic Bays—Study prepared by the Secretariat, UN Doc. A/CN.4/143, Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1962, Vol. II, 7–8, para. 42.

60. Gioia, supra note 42, para.17.

61. McDorman, supra note 6 at 153.

62. O’Connell, supra note 8 at 417.

* The author is the Vice President of the Chinese Society of Law of the Sea and the Vice President of the Asian Society of International Law. This paper reflects only the views of the author in his personal capacity.

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