China / Politics

China owns sovereignty over the South China Sea rig: Australian expert

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-05-19 02:05

BEIJING - An Australian expert told Xinhua Sunday that China owns sovereignty over the location of its drilling operations that stoked Vietnam's opposition and anti-China violence.

The rig that China is operating is 80 nautical miles from China's Yongxing Island, which is indisputably an island under the regime of islands in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and thus entitled to an Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf, said Sam Bateman, a senior fellow S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) of the Singapore-based Nanyang Technological University.

Bateman added that "despite global commentary that suggests otherwise, a negotiated maritime boundary in this area would likely place the rig within China's EEZ even if reduced weight was given to China's claimed insular features."

Vietnam claims that because the rig is closer to its mainland coast than to China's and well inside 200 nautical miles of its coast, it lies within its EEZ and on its continental shelf, Bateman said.

However, he said this argument may appear attractive but geographical proximity alone is not an unequivocal basis for claiming sovereignty or sovereign rights.

"There are many examples around the world of countries having sovereignty over features well inside the EEZ of another, or of EEZ boundaries being established significantly closer to one country than to another," Bateman said.

Bateman is also a former Australian naval commodore with research interests in regimes for good order at sea. He said Vietnam' s current claim over Xisha Islands is seriously weakened by North Vietnam' s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the islands in 1958 and its lack of protest between 1958 and 1975.

A number of governments, including the United States, have explicitly or implicitly recognized Chinese sovereignty over some or all of the islands, Bateman argued.

The US has urged the claimant countries to exercise care and restraint. Against the historical background of American acceptance of China' s sovereignty over Yongxing Island, it would be hypocritical now for Washington to make any stronger statement that might be seen as supportive of Vietnam' s position, Bateman said.

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