NUS Centre for International Law series
Edited by S. Jayakumar, Tommy Koh and Robert Beckman
Chapter 6: Do the coastal states in the South China Sea have a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles?
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea recognizes two bases of continental shelf entitlement: up to a distance of 200 nautical miles (nm) or to the outer edge of the continental margin, where the margin extends beyond that distance. The distance of the mainland coast of Viet Nam to the islands of Borneo and Palawan is over 500 nm and that to Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, is well over 600 nm. The continental margin in the South China Sea extends beyond 200 nm. These facts would seem to indicate that there can be no doubt about a positive answer to the question contained in the title of this chapter. However, it obviously is not that simple. This is due to the presence of a number of island groups in the South China Sea: the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and the features on Scarborough Reef. International law indicates that islands in principle have the same entitlement to a continental shelf as continental coasts.
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