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China Submits Maritime Claims to United Nations

  • Stephanie Ho

China says it will rely on peaceful negotiations to establish its maritime boundaries, even as it aggressively rejects claims by other countries to territories in the East and South China Seas.

At the heart of the matter are two groups of rocky islands in the South China Sea. China calls them the Nansha and Xisha islands. Internationally, they are better known as the Spratlys and the Paracels.

They lie near vital shipping lanes and are believed to be rich in oil and gas.

The issue of disputing claims to the islands is in the news again because Wednesday is the deadline for countries to submit to the United Nations their claims to territories on the outer limits of their continental shelves. This roughly means territories that are more than 200 nautical miles beyond their coasts.

The China Daily newspaper Wednesday quotes Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu as reiterating his country's claim of what he calls "indisputable ... jurisdiction over South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters." At the same time, he said the Chinese government will resolve maritime issues through peaceful negotiations.

The Spratly islands also are claimed, in full or partially, by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The article says China has urged the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf not to review a submission from Vietnam and a joint submission from Vietnam and Malaysia. It quotes the Chinese mission to the world body as saying the submissions infringe on China's sovereignty in the South China Sea.

The paper quotes Chinese Academy of Social Sciences maritime law expert Wang Hanling as saying that, by submitting their disputing claims to the United Nations, the two countries are trying to make this an international issue.

The news follows the Chinese Foreign Ministry's recent announcement that it has set up a Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu says the new department will deal with land and maritime boundaries and is aimed at increasing diplomacy with neighboring countries.

Ma says this new office is part of what he describes as an "appropriate reshuffle" for a country that has such long land and sea borders.

Another maritime dispute involves overlapping claims with Japan for the Diaoyu or Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The new department is also tasked with dealing with China's 22,000 kilometers of land border with 14 other countries. China settled its border demarcation with Vietnam in February and with Russia last October. China's only outstanding land border issues are with Bhutan and India.

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