Researchers at a key government-funded institute in China appear to have contradicted their director to lay out a moderate, or at least undecided, position for China on the so-called nine-dash line in a recent edition of Eurasia Review. This line, which was first drawn by the Nationalist government of China before 1949, appears to demarcate the entire South China Sea as subject to China’s jurisdiction — beyond the normal provisions of international law. The article appeared several months after President Xi ordered PLA hawks back into line in late September 2014 on three sets of issues: the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the India China border.
At the official level, China has not helped its case by refusing for almost seven decades to be totally clear on what maritime jurisdiction it is claiming with its nine-dash line. This has prompted anxieties and diplomatic ructions, culminating in a formal Philippines challenge to China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration on January 22, 2013. The Office of the Geographer in the U.S. Department of State also took up the issue in a December 2014 study, “China: Maritime Claims in the South China Sea”, in its long standing series, Limits in the Seas.
The new article from China, in fact just a short op-ed, was authored by Ye Qiang and Jiang Zongqiang, who are research fellows at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in China. They say that China wants no more rights than are accorded it under the Law of the Sea Convention as well as customary international law. They say that the government is still “evaluating whether or not to exercise each specific right, and the scope of the rights as well as the manner to exercise. The piece argues, “These are the reasons why China has not yet clarified the title of rights within the ‘dash-line.’”