China Wages A Quiet War Of Maps With Its Neighbors While Waging A War Of Nerves In Their Neighbor's Offshore Waters.
|Ancient Map from Google Images: The"Bamboo Seas" denote what we now call the "East and South China Seas"
Recently the following appeared in the Washington Post:
All maps or charts, especially historic ones aside it is time that the Dragon learns about the international rule of law relative to sovereignty in the coastal zones, exclusive economic zones, and sovereignty over islands. Early maps and charts prove nothing in the court of World opinion, or in any of the existing International Tribunals. By referring to old enough maps one could claim that the Dutch own New York, the Norman French own England, the Sioux own the U.S.Great Plains, or that the Mediterranean Sea is a Roman Lake.
Like wise in the realm of uninhabited real estate who "discovers it", or sights it , or reports and charts it first doesn't have a claim on it for sovereignty. The United States landed on the moon 44 years ago and not just once but on repeated occasions, and hasn't been back since. China intends to go within a decade, and is certainly unimpeded by any U.S. claim on the turf. The United States didn't abstain from making any claim on the moon just out of the generosity of the American people. America back in 1969 recognized that the ultimate test of sovereignty over an uninhabited place is "effective settlement". In the Falkland Islands war Argentina tried to enforce an ancient claim but was forced to accept this point of international law by the force of arms of Great Britain. The Ultimate test of Sovereignty over an island or previously uninhabited area is "effective settlement". Even if many Falkland islanders have Hispanic sounding names they settled the island, occupied the towns, and farmed the land under a British flag and have voted to stay under that flag for the better part of two centuries. This rule of international law is well settled in litigation, described in international legal commentators, and has been enforced by force of arms.
But most of the islands that China now claims are in fact uninhabited. Most are in closer proximity to such neighbors as the Philippines or Vietnam than to China's mainland. In the case of the southernmost Japanese Islands that China claims , China is indeed close aboard, but Japan has effectively administered the Islands in the 19th and 20th, and 21st centuries. That is one of the international legal test for uninhabited islands, a history of "effective administration". The simpler test is proximity to an adjacent coastal state as provided for under the United Nations Convention on the Law of The Sea. This convention however provides for negotiated boundaries to exclusive economic zones (EEZs) where areas within the basic proximity scheme are occupied, or historically "effectively administered" by powers other than the adjacent coastal state.
Most of China's neighbors except Japan have only recently started to develop Coast Guard like forces as the value of the islands, waters, and reefs within their EEZs in terms of rich fisheries, and oil deposits have become known. Most of the Islands are uninhabited and for practical purposes are uninhabitable without extreme logistic effort at great costs. So effective administration becomes important. China wanting all of the oil and fisheries is not content to let the boundaries prescribed under UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on The Law of The Sea) stand and is claiming all of the valuable real estate in the China seas as far away as 900 plus miles from her mainland on any basis that it can articulate.
The voracious Dragon knows the map war is a looser in terms of getting any definitive ruling out of any international tribunal. Having more wealth than its neighbors the Dragon has built what amounts to the World's largest "Coast Guard" and sent them out into all the islands enforcing fisheries regulations, running the fishermen of the adjacent coastal states out, meeting and greeting and "escorting" foreign flag vessels on innocent passage through the area. All of this activity so highly offensive to the adjacent coastal states is designed to demonstrate "effective administration". As long as China is engaged in these activities it is very difficult for any state including China to successfully sell oil leases. China wants to be recognized as the legitimate source for oil exploration and production leases everywhere in the region , not just her own legitimate EEZ. In the 1980s China simply sent in her Navy and shot to death dozens of Vietnamese sailors over ownership of a reef off of Vietnam.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uy2ZrFphSmc (Video of the event)
At the very least the continued aggressive behavior by China will continue to delay oil and gas exploration and development in the area to the detriment of the entire region. If the daily news of Chinese Coast Guard misbehavior is growing tiresome, imagine the tension out there on Japanese and Philippine Coast Guard ships. There is pressure on the Chinese sailors as well. Unless China comes to the bargaining table and stops its Coast Guard led island hopping campaign, someone is going to eventually pull a trigger. No matter who pulls the trigger first the blame for the resulting war rests with The Dragon.