European experts suggest international arbitration for East Sea dispute

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European experts discuss the East Sea disputes in Paris October 16

Panelists at a recent conference on the East Sea held in Paris said China has no legal claim to sovereignty over large parts of the sea, and Vietnam and other countries involved should take it to an international court.

Conflicts over the East Sea, also known as the South China Sea, should not be considered just a regional issue, Tuoi Tre quoted them as saying.

Christian Lechervy, special advisor to the French President on foreign affairs, said the issue is not only about Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands that Vietnam and China are fighting over, but also includes the disputed Pratas Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and other islands and straits.

The conference on October 16 was organized by the Institute for International and Strategic Relations and the Gabriel Péri Foundation.

Conflicts over the waters have become more intense since 2009 when reserves of oil and gas, rare earths and other minerals, and seafood were found even as resources in most countries were running out.

Cyrille P. Coutansais, a maritime law officer in the French Navy, said international laws and regulations should be enforced so that this area is not appropriated by force.

Only international rules such as the 1982 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the latter giving each country a 200-sea-mile economic zone, can resolve the matter fairly, he said.

China has been acting like the waters are its own, but without basis in international law or treaties it has signed, the experts said.

Patrice Jorland, a French journalist, said the name South China Sea, given by marine traders and European cartographers centuries ago, is no longer suitable in the current political situation since it make its sound like the waters belong to China.

China has refused to accept this, and in 2009 presented to the UN a U-shaped line -- including 80 percent of the waters and most islands -- as demarcating Chinese territory.

The UN's International Hydrographic Organization decided that the U-shaped line is vague and technically inaccurate and thus cannot be admitted as legal evidence.

But China showed little cooperation to clarify the matter, legal experts said at the conference.

David Scott of Britain said China has refused to clarify how the line was created technically.

Professor Monique Chemillier-Gendreau of France also recalled an experience in Beijing three years ago when high-ranking Chinese officials had said the waters were theirs and they had no responsibility to provide any evidence or go to any court, she said.

It has documents about the waters since 1930, while Vietnam has some papers dating back to the 17th century, she said.

The panelists said instead of going in for international arbitration, China is using bilateral dialogue as a secret weapon.

China's strategy is to financially exhaust each country involved in the dispute by forcing them to militarize, until they no longer care and would sign agreements in favor of China, they said.

They encouraged Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries caught in the dispute to deal with China multilaterally, bringing it to the Hague, warning otherwise they would lose everything.

Coutansais said Vietnam and the Philippines do not have to get China's agreement to find an international referee. If both of them take China to court, China would have to go, he said.

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