By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea
Territorial claims in the South China Sea
The international Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague (which has nothing to do with the ICJ or International Court of Justice), on 12 July 2016 voted unanimously (by five Judges) in a 497 page decision, that the Chinese claims for owning 85% of the South China Sea (one of the biggest and busiest maritime territories of the world and close to the size of entire India) was contrary to the international law of the sea. This was the response of court to a case filed by Philippines against China in 2013. (1)
The court in a nutshell has said:
China has rejected the decision of the international Permanent Court of Arbitration.(3) One of the Chinese officials have called it a waste paper (4).
The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has not taken an official stand regarding the Chinese claims in the South China Sea and the recent decision of the international Permanent Court of Arbitration. However, even before the decision of the court, there were moves to gain the support of Iran in the case for China.
According to IRNA, the official news agency of Iran, which is very close to the power centers ( such as the Revolutionary Guards) in Iran, the Chinese experts have done extensive research activities in Iran, and especially in the Tehran University, to find evidence to support the Chinese claims. The same report mentions a piece of news from the Xinhua news agency, the official news agency of China, according to which the Iranian and Arab geographers during 9-17th centuries have produced maps that indicate the disputed islands in the South China Sea belonged to China. The report says Iranian and Chinese researchers have made extensive joint research on the subject and they have gained good results. (5)
Also following the decision of the court in The Hague on the case at hand, Mehr News Agency, a semi-official news agency in Iran, has said: the decision of the international Permanent Court of Arbitration is a reflex of changing maritime power balance in a vast area, “which traditionally belonged to china and now the US has made it its playground.” (6)
It can be concluded that there are indications of indirect support of the Islamic Republic of Iran from the Chinese positions on this issue. Also, there is a possibility that Iran is interested to use the concept of “historical rights” (that has been the main argument of the China for ownership of the almost entire South China Sea), for its maritime claims and disputes in the Persian Gulf and The Caspian sea, where Iran has had long historical presence and yet the newly established states are not interested in paying much attention to the claims of Iran. The issue of historical rights to the maritime territories is a vague part of the law of the sea. It is not directly inserted in the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, but is has been the subject of a study presented to the UN conference on the law of the sea.
About the author:
Bahman A Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books.
His latest books were published in 2011:
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