The bilateral relationship between South Korea and China has advanced rapidly since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1992. But the two nations are still sharply divided on many matters.
A case in point is how the two nations see the July 12th decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the South China Sea dispute. China has expressed strong resistance against the ruling that there is no legal ground on China’s “nine-dash line” maritime claim. On the other hand, South Korean Foreign Ministry indicated support for the ruling by announcing that there was “demilitarization pledge in the South China Sea, a resolution based on international code of conduct.” This is in line with the position of the United States and Japan.
The essential points of the ruling are: there is no legal ground to acknowledge that the “nine- dash line” is part of Chinese territory; not a single island within the Spratly Islands has a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone; and China has violated the sovereignty of the Philippines by occupying the Scarborough Shoal.
Meanwhile, China’s protest against the PCA judgement is based on arguments that the court has no jurisdiction over the “South China Sea territory which has belonged to China for 2,000 years”, and that four of the five judges were selected by the head of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, who is rooted in Japan (two judges were recommended by the Philippines). However, the court does have the jurisdiction over the sea in accordance with Article 121 under the Law of the Sea Convention, and the judges were appointed by the head of ITLOS only because China had given up its rights to do so, according to the appendix 7 of the maritime law. Lu Kang, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S., who is not a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The PCA decision is deemed to have largely contributed to solidifying a maritime order and advancing the international law in that it has clarified the definitions for a rock and an island in the law. The “nine-dash line” is a legacy of the Han Dynasty, which declared “there is no such land that does not belong to China,” and is in violation of the international maritime law. The Japanese government and major media outlets including the Asahi Shimbun altogether championed the judgement despite knowing that it could act in disadvantage of Japan’s southernmost island of Okinotori.