World / Opinion

China may consider quitting UNCLOS, expert says

By AN BAIJIE and MO JINGXI ( Updated: 2016-07-08 20:23

China could consider quitting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea if the upcoming ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague infringes on China's sovereignty, an expert said.

The Arbitral Tribunal's ruling in the arbitration case, which was unilaterally initiated by the Philippines against China over the South China Sea disputes, will be announced on Tuesday.

He Zhou, a professor at the Center for Communication Research at City University of Hong Kong, told China Daily on Friday that the UNCLOS is likely to be manipulated by some countries using it as tool to harm China's sovereignty and national interests.

China has been a strong supporter of the UNCLOS for many years. However, the convention's provisions may be exploited by other states for political reasons, He said.

The convention, signed in 1982, came into force in 1994. Currently, 167 countries and the European Union have joined the convention. The United States has not ratified it.

The UNCLOS does not exclude historic rights that predate it and are continuously claimed. The issue of territorial sovereignty is not subject to the convention.

China holds that the case brought by Manila is essentially about sovereignty and maritime delimitation, and thus the court does not have jurisdiction.

It would be conceivable for China to quit the UNCLOS if its territorial sovereignty was undermined by the Arbitral Tribunal, He said.

According to an online survey by the website of Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV in March, about 92.77 percent of the 19,950 participants voted to support China to quit the UNCLOS.

Myron Nordquist, associate director and editor at the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia School of Law, told China Daily that "the arbitration has set a bad precedent with its award on jurisdiction".

"There is no way to guarantee the effectiveness" of Article 298 of the UNCLOS, which excludes compulsory arbitration on issues including maritime boundary, he said. In 2006, China declared it would exercise its rights under Article 298.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said that China is not likely to leave the UNCLOS. However, it has reasons to refuse to implement the arbitral ruling, Wu said.

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