Joint-exploration could help ease East Sea disputes

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Escalating tensions over the oil-rich East Sea could be eased temporarily by a joint-exploitation agreement and then resolved permanently under international laws, scholars said at a workshop in Hanoi Friday.

The issue was discussed during the two-day event that attracted more than 150 scholars and leading thinkers from various countries, including China.

Several scholars at the conference said complicated territorial disputes over the East Sea could be solved by bilateral and multilateral negotiations based on international laws and historical evidence.

One of the most contentious issues is that over the years, China has tried to dispute Vietnam’s historical sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes in the East Sea.

With an area of more than 3.5 million square kilometers, the East Sea is believed to be rich in oil and other natural resources and plays an important role in international marine transport.

China’s economic strength, together with its military modernization and growing energy demand, is a source of concern for other nations claiming sovereignty over parts of the sea. Scholars said disputes over territorial waters in the East Sea were a cause of rising tensions in the region.

China recently claimed over 80 percent of the East Sea in a diplomatic note to the UN General Secretary in May.

An increase in oil exploration and the search for other minerals by several countries has heightened competition among neighbors for access to valuable parts of the sea. In some cases, nations have mistreated fishermen from other countries caught in territorial waters, experts at the conference said.

Some experts at the conference criticized ASEAN for failing to adopt the East Sea dispute as a major concern.

They said the ASEAN declaration on the East Sea in 1992 and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the East Sea in 2002 were not enough.

Scholars also urged that unconcluded talks on a joint Code of Conduct needed to be sealed as China had repeatedly stated its preference for a bilateral dialogue rather than a multilateral solution to the East Sea dispute.

Worsening disputes

Several experts said China’s claim over 80 percent of the East Sea was based on little of substance. They said a map submitted by China to the UN to stake its claim had only complicated the situation.

Professor Ramses Amer of Stockholm University in Sweden said that no one understood what that map â€" which shows a dashed line around the country’s claim to 80 percent of the sea â€" was trying to express, including many Chinese scholars.

Nazery Khalid, a Senior Research Fellow at the Maritime Institute of Malaysia's Center for Economics Studies & Ocean Industries, said the map was unfounded and had ignited controversy.

Tran Cong Truc, former head of Vietnam’s Government Border Committee, said Chinese researchers themselves were unsure about the map’s legitimacy.

Rodolfo Severino, head of the ASEAN Studies Center Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, said there were no co-ordinates attached to the dashes on the line and China had never explained their meaning.

Joint exploitation

Experts at the workshop organized by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam also advised that a temporary joint-exploitation agreement be implemented by concerned parties in international waters.

Hasjim Djalal of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Indonesia said the concerned sides should agree on cooperative principles, including geographical areas, fields of cooperation as well as specific cooperative partners and mechanisms.

However, he said the key element of cooperation would be the political will of each country.

Truc from Vietnam’s Government Border Committee said the joint exploitation agreement option was mentioned in the 1982 United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea, which allows concerned sides exploit international waters prior to a long-term solution to a dispute.

However, he said international waters should be properly defined based on the Convention.

The Truong Sa and Hoang Sa archipelagos are not international waters, they are Vietnamese territory and international waters only begin 200 nautical miles off the coast of the islands, he said.

Source: Thanh Nien, Agencies

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