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Ripples in the East and South China Seas: Aid, ADIZs, Aircraft Carriers, and Arbitration

Published on December 1, 2013        Author: 

0912ChinaSeaTerritory2In the past few weeks throughout November 2013, various incidents have sharply demonstrated China’s foreign policy preferences in relation to disputes with neighbors over the East and South China Seas (pictured above left, credit), as well as its self-perception of its broader hegemonic role in the Asian region.  I recently spoke on regulatory freedom and control under the new ASEAN regional investment treaties at the international investment law panel organized and led by Dr. Stephan Schill of the Max Planck Institute and Professor M. Sornarajah of the National University of Singapore, at the Fourth Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law (AsianSIL) held in New Delhi, India from 14 to 16 November, 2013.  In the same conference, I witnessed firsthand the rare exchange  between China’s Judge Hanqin Xue of the International Court of Justice during the presentation made by my former University of the Philippines colleague Professor H. Harry Roque on the Philippine arbitration claim filed against ChinaIn a detailed reply after Professor Roque’s presentation, Judge Xue noted that there was no other Chinese scholar or delegate in the AsianSIL conference, and said she would thus take the opportunity to analyze the Chinese position on the Philippine arbitration.  She did stress, however, that her remarks were made in her personal capacity, and not in any way reflective of her views as a Member of the Court and certainly not representative of China’s official position on the South China Sea.)

First, Judge Xue observed that the questions in the Philippine claim, taken in their totality, in reality amount to territorial questions that fall well outside the scope of the subject-matter jurisdiction of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Second, she stressed that around forty states (including China) had not accepted compulsory jurisdiction under the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedure.  Third, she related her experiences as China’s Ambassador to ASEAN during the passage of the Declaration of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, where, in her view, the littoral States signing the declaration clearly assumed the obligation to resolve the South China Sea disputes through negotiations and not through compelled arbitration.  Finally, she expressed that China decided not to participate in the UNCLOS arbitration initiated by the Philippines because no country could have “failed to see the design” of the Philippine claim which “mixed up jurisdiction and merits”, and that it tended to complicate the full range of regional maritime issues and inhibit confidence-building measures between the seven States parties to the dispute.  Judge Xue stressed that all parties to the South China Sea dispute would do better to cooperate on issues gradually (such as, first, through rapid response disaster risk reduction in maritime disasters and maritime-related environmental hazards) to build confidence steadily among the States enough to reach multilateral agreement on joint resource management and resource uses over the disputed area.  Even though issued in her personal capacity, the remarks of China’s most senior international judge certainly suggests, at least, that there is some groundswell towards peaceful cooperative actions for resolving maritime disputes in the Asian region.

Subsequent actions taken by the Chinese government in the past week, however, seem to demonstrate some equivocation to the above views.  On November 23, 2013, China announced that it was marking its own “air defense identification zone” (ADIZ) to include airspace over the disputed islands (Senkaku Islands according to Japan, Diaoyu islands according to China) in the East China Sea.  Similar to other ADIZs established by the United States, Canada, Russia, among others, China established its ADIZ by declaration, and not by treaty.  An ADIZ may be established over territorial waters or land, but it may also be declared over high seas or extended into international airspace adjacent to national airspace. (Nicholas Poulantzas, The Right of Hot Pursuit in International Law, Martinus Nijhoff, 2002, at pp. 341-342.)  In the latter instance, foreign aircraft passing through the ADIZ would be required to provide the State administering the ADIZ with advance warning information only if the aircraft’s final destination is the said State. Read the rest of this entry…