China's nine-dash line is vague, says the US, and most interpretations of the claim are inconsistent with international law.
The US State Department on December 5 published a report stating that China’s nine-dash line and maritime claims in the East Sea do not accord with international law. China, however, has constantly claimed almost the entire East Sea, citing the nine-dash line to assert indisputable sovereignty.
The US said that China’s position on its maritime claims is unclear. The 26-page report assessed three possible interpretations of the nine-dash line: as a claim to islands, as a national boundary, and as a historic claim. It is only the first interpretation where the US said the line could be consistent with international law. The other remaining two do not have a proper legal basis under the law of the sea, the report stated, referring to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
On the second interpretation of the line as a national boundary, the State Department believed that this too is inconsistent with international law. The report cited that dashes 2, 3 and 8 that appear on China’s 2009 map are not only relatively close to the mainland shores of other states but all or part of them are also beyond 200 nautical miles from any Chinese-claimed land feature.
Regarding the third interpretation, the report said the line failed each element of a legal test: (i) no open, notorious, and effective exercise of authority over the East Sea, (ii) no continuous exercise of authority in the East Sea, (iii) no acquiescence by foreign states in China’s exercise of authority in the East Sea. “The law of the sea does not permit [maritime] entitlements to be overridden by another state’s maritime claims that are based on ‘history’. To the contrary, a major purpose and accomplishment of the Convention is to bring clarity and uniformity to the maritime zones to which coastal States are entitled,” the report stated.
It seems that ASEAN and China are yet to find a good way to resolve the dispute. While ASEAN is a necessary player in the search for a peaceful settlement of territorial disputes in the East Sea, Professor Carl Thayer, a well-known Vietnam analyst from Australia, believes that the bloc alone is not sufficient to bring about a settlement. “China bears major responsibility,” he stressed. “Only Beijing can determine whether it will act with restraint in 2015 by refraining from redeploying the Haiyang Shiyou-981 to Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Only China can end the stand off with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal and Second Thomas Reef. And only China can halt its massive land reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands.”
For its part, the State Department has come out publicly with the conclusion that: “Unless China clarifies that the dashed-line claim reflects only a claim to islands within that line and any maritime zones that are generated from those land features in accordance with the international law of the sea, as reflected in the UNCLOS Convention, its dashed-line claim does not accord with the international law of the sea.”