Why Chinese fishermen are in the WPS

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China claims that part of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) enclosed by the nine-dash line is a traditional fishing ground of Chinese fishermen. That would make about 80 percent of the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the WPS a traditional fishing ground of Chinese fishermen. This Chinese claim, however, has been rejected in the Award of the arbitral tribunal at The Hague. The arbitral tribunal expressly ruled that in the EEZ all historic rights, which include traditional fishing rights, have been “extinguished” upon the effectivity in 1994 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or Unclos. China has made the same traditional fishing rights claim in the EEZs of Indonesia and Vietnam, and both countries have forcefully rejected the Chinese claim on the same ground that there are no traditional fishing rights in their EEZs under Unclos.

Traditional fishing rights, under Unclos, can exist only in “archipelagic waters” which are waters landward of the archipelagic baselines. The waters of the Philippine EEZ in the WPS are not archipelagic waters. Under customary international law, traditional fishing rights may also exist in the territorial sea. This is why the Award declared that the territorial waters of Scarborough Shoal are the traditional fishing ground of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino fishermen. In the EEZ, however, there are no fishing rights by other states without the express consent of the adjacent coastal state.

Why Chinese fishermen are in the WPS

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