Date: Wed, 8 Dec 1999 20:48:42 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <email@example.com>
Subject: POLITICS: China Insists Spratly Islands Dispute is Regional
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
China Insists Spratly Islands Dispute is Regional
By Thalif Deen, IPS
7 December 1999
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 7 (IPS) - The People's Republic of China, one
of six claimants to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea,
has warned against any outside interference in what it says is
The Spratleys, believed to be rich both in oil and gas, have
been in part or in whole by six countries in the region - China,
Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Ambassador Gao Feng of China told the UN General Assembly
Monday that Beijing's sovereignty over the island was based on
"historical facts...recognised by neighbouring countries."
China, Gao said, advocated a settlement of the dispute through
peaceful means and was opposed to intervention from nations
outside the region.
In an apparent reference to posasible UN intervention,
"parties" which were not involved in the dispute should refrain
from actions because it would only complicate the issue, Gao said.
The Spratlys comprise 21 islands and atolls, 50 submerged land
spits and 28 partly submerged rocks and reefs, spread over
340,000 square miles.
China maintains that 400 of its scholars spent 10 years of
research to "prove historically" that China "discovered" and
developed the Spratly Islands.
The most contentious dispute is between Vietnam and China whose
naval forces clashed in 1988 with the loss of more than 70 lives.
Pham Truong Giang of Vietnam told the General Assembly that the
Chinese government had already banned fishing in the South China
Sear near the Spratly Islands and the Paracels.
His own country had sufficient historical and legal claims to the
Spratly Islands and, as a coastal state, Vietnam had full
sovereign rights to continental shelves, he said.
"Any counter action would be a violation of its sovereign
rights to those areas," he said, adding that the status quo
should be maintained and that all interested parties refrain from
acts that would aggravate the situation.
Last month, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) -
of which Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are members -
approved a new draft code of conduct that requires rival claimants
to refrain "from taking action that would establish presence" in
the South China Sea.
The code was initiated by the Philippines which has sought
ASEAN support to prevent "Chinese expansionism in the Spratly
In 1995 the Philippines was involved in a skirmish when its
armed forces arrested Chinese fishermen and removed Chinese
navigation markers from the disputed island.
According to some analysts, should China succeed in realising
the full extent of its claims to sovereignty, it could then extend
its jurisdiction some 1,000 nautical miles from its mainland.
Ambassador Felipe Mabilangan of the Philippines told the
General Assembly that as a "claimant country", the Philippines
will continue to emphasise the importance of resolving these
claims in the interest of peace and stability in the region.
Mabilangan said his country reiterated the need for those
disputes to be settled peacefully, in accordance with the
principles of international law, and to continue to exercise self-
restraint in the conduct of activities in the South China sea.
The Philippine envoy also complained that poaching and illegal
fishing by foreign vessels has become rampant in the region,
threatening the sustainability of his country's fisheries and the
His country's marginal fishermen and their communities were
particularly affected. Their catches had been shrinking and
livelihoods threatened. The well-being of a large number of his
countrymen was in serious danger, Mabilangan said.
Ambassador Hasmy Agam of Malaysia said that as one of the
claimant states, Malaysia wished to emphasise its opposition to
the use of force to settle any dispute with regard to the South
Any action taken in the area should not violate the ASEAN
declaration and should be in accordance with international law and
the Convention of the Law of the Sea.
The Malaysian envoy said his country was encouraged that
claimant states had accepted negotiations and dialogue. He called
on them to adhere to those principles and to refrain from actions
that could jeopardise peace and stability.
Arguing that states that were not a party to the dispute should
not interfere in resolving disputes, he said that all negotiations
should be based on the ASEAN original code of conduct on the South
One Asian diplomat told IPS that logically the dispute could go
before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in
Hamburg, one of the institutions created by the UN Law of the Sea
Addressing the General Assembly last week the President of the
Tribunal Chandrasekhara Rao described it as a world court that is
designed by the UN Convention to play a central role in the
resolution of the law of the sea disputes.
Since it was set up in October 1996, the Tribunal has delivered
its judgements in two cases involving several contentious issues,
including the issue of freedom of navigation, commercial
activities in the exclusive economic zone, the enforcement of
customs laws, the right of hot pursuit and the conservation and
management of a highly migratory fish stock.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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