Indonesia, South China Sea and the 11/10/9-dashed lines


There seems to be an obsession among political commentators in Asia and beyond that Indonesia has to admit that it is a claimant state in the South China Sea (SCS) dispute and, therefore, must surrender its role as a “mediator”. This is indeed laughable in the eyes of international law.

This is my take on the matter.

First, the very essence of the SCS dispute is, in simple terms, about who owns over hundreds of islands, rocks, reefs, low-tide elevations and sandbanks in the Spratleys and the Paracels.

The claimants are Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Taiwan is also considered a claimant by many.

Since its independence, Indonesia has never imagined laying claim to any of those hundreds of features in the SCS. Even when then prime minister Djuanda Kartawidjaja proclaimed Indonesia’s archipelagic waters in 1957, Indonesia did not include the Spratleys. Indonesia has no territorial ambition in this area whatsoever.

If the claimants truly want to settle who owns what and where, they have to adopt the general principle of public international law and jurisprudence that dates back to the decision of Las Palmas/Miangas in 1928. They can not operationalize the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 as it was not designed to settle sovereignty disputes.

Second, if, not when, the ownership of the hundreds of features in the SCS is ever determined, the following exercise would be the delimitation of maritime zones from those features. International legal principle stipulates that “land dominates the seas”, therefore, any width of maritime zones in the South China Sea must be based on projection from land.


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