The Modern Creation of China’s “Historic Rights” Claim in the South China Sea
Tác giả: Bill Hayton
Asian Affairs ngày 16 tháng 7 năm 2018
The overlapping territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea threaten to spark conflict in East Asia. On several occasions in recent years, disputes over the right to extract oil and gas have caused clashes between Chinese and Southeast Asian vessels. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was agreed by almost all countries in 1982 to try to resolve such disagreements. However, the People’s Republic of China is currently trying to claim rights that go beyond UNCLOS and infringe on the UNCLOS-based rights of the other claimants. It deploys two arguments in particular: that the archipelagos in the South China Sea collectively generate rights to maritime resources and that China enjoys ‘historic rights’ in the sea. Neither of these arguments is found within UNCLOS, however. This article explores the origin of these Chinese arguments and finds that the ‘historic rights’ claim can be traced to a single Taiwanese academic writing in the 1990s during a period of intense debate in Taiwan over its relationship with the PRC.
It seems clear from the evidence available that the concept of ‘historic rights’ in the South China Sea only emerged in the early 1990s and in Taiwan, not the PRC. It also seems likely that it sprang from the ideas of a single individual, Fu Kuen-Chen, before gaining support from fellow supporters of the ‘one-China’ position within Taiwanese politics. Although the links are not yet solidly established there are grounds to believe that the idea that the U-shaped line formed a ‘traditional maritime boundary’ for a Chinese claim to resource rights was then communicated from Taiwan to the PRC via the interventions of the American oil company, Crestone. Over the following three years, like-minded scholars and officials on both sides of the Taiwan Strait cooperated in developing and promoting the concept.
It was shifts in the internal politics of Taiwan, away from the ‘one-China’ position and towards greater autonomy or independence, that terminated the development of the ‘historic rights’ argument on the island. Under attack from both the ‘anti-China’ camp and legal scholars who disagreed with the basic argument, it disappeared from mainstream political discourse, remaining alive only among supporters of the New Party and its affiliates.
However, by 1998 the concept had already taken root in the PRC. In 2002, Fu Kuen-Chen followed it. He demonstrated his ‘one-China’ views by taking up academic positions simultaneously at both Xiamen University Law School in the PRC and the National Kinmen Institute of Technology, which is located on the Taiwan-held island of Kinmen just 10 kilometres across the bay from Xiamen. He continues to teach in Xiamen and at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, both located in Mainland China. He maintains his ‘historic waters’ arguments and his maximalist version of the Chinese territorial claim in the South China Sea.
Tải toàn văn bài nghiên cứu tại Bill Hayton (2018) The Modern Creation of China’s Historic Rights Claim in the South China Sea
Bill Hayton là học giả chương trình Châu Á – Thái Bình Dương ở Chatham House, Anh Quốc.
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