Western and Asian governments and commentators have pilloried the Chinese government for its inscrutability on the so-called ‘nine-dash line’ in the South China Sea. Because the nine-dash line allegedly lacks a basis in international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), they have hectored China to clarify the line’s meaning and to derive all maritime claims from the textual provisions of the Convention.
China, for its part, has let a set of seemingly ambiguous actions in the foreign Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) that straddle the nine-dash line speak louder than words. Since 2009, it has also progressively articulated a case for ‘relevant rights in the South China Sea formed in the long historical course’.
These twin approaches to maritime rights were thrown into sharp relief as Indonesian and Chinese maritime law enforcement vessels faced off for the third time in six years over a private Chinese trawler in the vicinity of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands on 19 and 20 March.