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The China-Japan and Venezuela-Guyana Maritime Disputes: how the law on undelimited maritime areas addresses unilateral hydrocarbon activities

Published on January 25, 2019        Author: 

In December 2018, two incidents brought to the fore the importance of the rules addressing activities in undelimited maritime areas.  The first incident occurred between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and the second took place between Venezuela and Guyana in the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas the establishment of maritime boundaries is the optimum choice when it comes to the creation of a stable and secure environment for the conduct of maritime activities, the UN Law of the Sea Convention 1982 (‘LOSC’ or ‘the Convention’) provides for the regulation of operations even in the absence of maritime delimitation. With a view to avoiding tension, Articles 74(3) and 83(3) LOSC impose two obligations upon states having overlapping entitlements/claims in a given undelimited maritime area. This post scrutinises the behaviour of the parties involved in the aforementioned disputes through the lens of the LOSC.

The factual background

On the 3rd of December 2018, Japan protested China’s deployment of a jack-up rig and the drilling of boreholes near the provisional median line between the two states in the East China Sea. In response, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that China was carrying out hydrocarbon activities in waters falling within its jurisdiction and that it does not recognise the provisional median line with Japan.

It is worth mentioning that China has been engaged in hydrocarbon activities in the area since 2003 (a deal on the establishment of a joint development zone reached in 2008 has not been implemented). Furthermore, it is recalled that in 2014 China performed unilateral oil and gas ventures in an undelimited maritime area within 200M of the coasts of Vietnam, triggering the latter’s vehement reaction. China had attempted to justify its activities back then by invoking its claims according to the ‘9-dash line’, a claim which was put in doubt by the Award of the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea (Philippines v China) case (2016). Read the rest of this entry…

 
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