Law of the sea or law of the jungle? – Max Herriman

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Recently, I was invited to Hong Kong to participate in a discussion with eminent scholars on the topic of fisheries management in the South China Sea.

In order to broaden our perspective, a dear friend and highly respected Chinese professor kindly talked us through Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Her summary of the salient issues accurately captured the thrust of the arguments put forcefully and frequently in the public domain by government officials and commentators of the People’s Republic of China.

They also helped to explain actions such as the lodging of a complaint by China this week with the United States over a surveillance aircraft that flew over parts of the disputed South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hua Chunying, was reported to have said on Monday, “Freedom of navigation and overflight by no means mean that foreign countries’ warships and military aircraft can ignore the legitimate rights of other countries as well as the safety of aviation and navigation.”

However, in hearing these arguments yet again in Hong Kong, I was struck by the most telling obstacle to resolution of contending claims in the South China Sea – namely, that seemingly creative, convenient interpretations and distortions of international law are used to support these claims, sometimes in the context of ambiguous guidance from vague wording of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (LOSC).

In November 1967, Dr Arvid Pardo of Malta made a speech in the General Assembly of the United Nations calling for demilitarisation of the seabed and recognition of its resources as “the common heritage of mankind”.
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