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Prof. Oxman Addresses Maritime Boundaries in South China Sea

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Professor Bernard Oxman

Professor Bernard Oxman. (Photo: Miami Law) Full-Size Photo

Miami Law's Professor Bernard H. Oxman, a renowned expert on laws that address oceans and maritime boundaries, was the moderator of a panel discussion on Nov. 1 at New York's Columbia Law School on "International Law and the South China Sea." All missions to the United Nations were invited to attend.

In anticipation of the panel discussion, Professor Oxman provided the following analysis of the subject's importance:

The South China Sea is surrounded by Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Within the South China Sea, at some distance from the mainland and main islands of the surrounding states, there are small islands and rocks over which two or more states claim sovereignty. These include the Paracel Islands (claimed by China and Vietnam) and the Spratly Islands (all or some of which are claimed by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam). Major international shipping and communications routes cross the South China Sea. It is rich in living resources, and areas of its seabed are believed to contain significant hydrocarbon deposits.

Because of overlapping claims to islands and rocks as well as to the sea and seabed, the area been much in the news of late. It seems useful to shed some light on the matter, including the so-called "nine-dash line" drawn by China around most of the South China Sea. In particular it can be helpful to clarify the extent to which there may be substantive issues with respect to the South China Sea, including the following three: sovereignty over small islands at some distance from the mainland and main islands surrounding the South China Sea, including the question of which features are islands amenable to claims of sovereignty; the nature and extent of entitlement to maritime jurisdiction in the South China Sea, including the extent to which it is generated by sovereignty over such islands; and delimitation or joint development of overlapping entitlements to maritime jurisdiction, and the extent to which this may be affected by sovereignty over such islands. In that light, it is important to consider how to narrow and resolve the disagreements and, pending definitive resolution, how to manage them.

While these matters are of course of principal concern to the people of the region, all of us have a common interest in furtherance of peaceful relations and sustainable development, respect for the rule of law, and protection of international navigation and communications.