Tran Truong Thuy, China’s U-shaped Line in the South China Sea: Possible Interpretations, Asserting Activities and Reactions from Outside

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Paper presented at the Conference on “The Practices of the UNCLOS and the Resolution of South China Sea Disputes”, 3-4 September 2012, Taipei, Taiwan.  Author: Tran Truong Thuy, PhD, Director of Center for East Sea (South China Sea) Studies, Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.  Abstract: China (and Taiwan) has circulated the map of South China Sea with the U-shaped line (or nine-dotted line) in different internal documents and publications since 1948. However, it was not until 2009 that, for the first time, the People’s Republic of China included it in an official international document, namely in the Note Verbal sent to United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to protest Vietnam and Malaysia joint submissions on the outer limit of their continental shelves in the South China Sea. In recent years, China has increasingly used military and law-enforcement vessels, civilian ships and fishing boats to expand its presence within the U-shaped line and try to turn the waters within the line into Chinese maritime zones. At the same time, China has not yet officially clarified its claim and legal basis for the line, leading to a lot of speculations from the scholar community. There are different views and various possible interpretations of the legal status of the U-shaped line among Chinese and non-Chinese observers. This paper will examine the legal basis of all of these possible interpretations; try to find the official position of Chinese government regarding to the line and analyze reactions from international community. Then, it will conclude with suggestions for China (both mainland and Taiwan) to bring the line into conformity with international law, particularly the UNCLOS 1982, to defuse ambiguity and tension in the region.
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