Marine governance expert urges calm as South China Sea dispute escalates

An expert on international marine conservation, technology, and governance has advised the parties involved the current South China Sea dispute to remain calm and abide by the law that governs use of sea.

Torsten Thiele, founder of the Global Ocean Trust, gave his view on the issue that has escalated a long-running verbal conflict between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, after a United Nations arbitration court in The Hague last Tuesday invalidated China’s vast claims in the South China Sea.

Thiele was attending the annual meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) as a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature delegation at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston last week.

“It’s very important that the law of the sea is respected, and that means respected in every aspect,” Thiele responded when the Jamaica Observer asked his view on the issue last Thursday.

“The law of the sea is a wonderful instrument because it actually looks after these rules for common heritage on the sea floor, the real freedoms of the sea, and also responsibilities; and so we hope that in the South China Sea people keep a cool head and stick to what the law says and what the tribunal says – all these are part of how the law of the sea functions,” added Thiele.

Beijing has angrily rejected the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling which states that China has no historic rights to resources within the area. China’s claims, which include waters approaching neighbouring countries, are said to be based on a vaguely defined ‘nine-dash-line’ found on a 1940s Chinese map.

The United States and Japan have called on China to adhere to the ruling, but last Friday

Xinhua news agency reported Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as telling Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that “Japan is not a state directly involved in the South China Sea issue, and thus should exercise caution in its own words and deeds, and stop hyping up and interfering”.

Also on Friday, the European Union (EU) urged China and the Philippines to settle the dispute peacefully, but stopped short of pushing Beijing to abide by the ruling. According to the EU, it does not take a position on sovereignty rows.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the union “expresses the need for the parties to the dispute to resolve it through peaceful means, to clarify their claims and pursue them in respect and in accordance with international law”.


Agence France Press reported United States Vice-President Joe Biden as saying that China must abide by the same international rules as everyone else.

But China has argued that the tribunal was “unlawful” and said that the ruling would “not have any effect” on its existing policy. Beijing has also insisted that it will ignore the decision, while warning its rivals that increasing pressure on the issue could turn the resource-rich waters into a “cradle of war”.

That warning was an apparent response to the United States’ deployment of aircraft carriers and other vessels reportedly to assert freedom of navigation in the waters through which a third of the global oil trade passes.

The case against China was taken to the court in 2013 by the Philippines, which argued that Beijing’s claims to much of the territory in the sea are invalid and violate the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In addition to ruling that China’s historical rights were without “legal basis”, the tribunal also said that China’s artificial island building and the blocking of Filipino fishermen at Scarborough Shoal were unlawful.

China had boycotted the court proceedings, saying the court had no jurisdiction to rule on the issues, and has mounted a huge diplomatic and publicity drive to try to discredit the tribunal and its decision.

But the tone of the rhetoric in Beijing is not reflected here at the ISA convention.

“It’s an important challenge,” Thiele said of China’s reaction to the ruling, “but what we found is that China in the procedures here is very respectful of international law, and so we applaud that approach.”

Source: Jamaica Observer