The South China Sea Disputes and Law of the Sea

The South China Sea Disputes and Law of the Sea

NUS Centre for International Law series

Edited by S. Jayakumar, Tommy Koh and Robert Beckman

South China Sea Disputes And Law Of The Sea explores in great detail the application of specific provisions of UNCLOS and how the framework of international law applies to the South China Sea. Offering a comprehensive analysis of the individual topics and their application to the South China Sea region, each chapter of the book provides a substantive and rigorous investigation into the history, development and application of the relevant legal principles. It is written within the global context so that lessons learned from this exercise will have global implications. Contributors include former judges from ITLOS, legal advisors to States who participated in the negotiation and drafting of UNCLOS, as well as outstanding scholars of both law and geography, many of whom have acted as counsel or experts in cases before international court and tribunals.

Chapter 1: Offshore features subject to claims of sovereignty

Bernard H Oxman

Subjects: asian studies, asian law, law - academic, asian law, maritime law, public international law


The question of whether, and to what extent, the sea is subject to claims of sovereignty is an ancient one. Different answers prevailed at different times in different places. Those answers often reflected the rise and fall of great empires, and efforts to extend those empires either by use of the sea or by attempting to control the use of the sea by others, or both. For much of human history, the debate primarily centered on navigation. The sea was the object of the debate, but the underlying interests concerned the land. Some imperial powers made claims of control over the sea in order to limit foreigners’ access to land territory, presumably to enhance the dominance of the imperial power over those land areas. From a lawyer’s perspective, the most important historical example of rebellion against such pretensions is the resistance of the Netherlands to Iberian claims of vast control over the sea. The Dutch resistance prompted Grotius to develop the thesis of mare liberum, which eventually triumphed with the support of many nations. Fisheries are of course an ancient exception to the view that the law of the sea is about navigation. But sea fisheries were abundant until relatively recently. The pressure to assert control over them in order to limit competition has existed for a long time, but its effects were limited.

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