China: Maritime Claims in the South China Sea

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Source: Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Date of publication: December 5, 2014


This study analyzes the maritime claims of the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea, specifically its “dashed-line” claim encircling islands and waters of the South China Sea.

In May 2009, the Chinese Government communicated two Notes Verbales to the UN Secretary General requesting that they be circulated to all UN Member States. The 2009 Notes, which contained China’s objections to the submissions by Vietnam and Malaysia (jointly) and Vietnam (individually) to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, stated the following:

China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and the adjacent waters, and enjoys sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the relevant waters as well as the seabed and subsoil thereof (see attached map). The above position is consistently held by the Chinese government, and is widely known by the international community.

The map referred to in China’s Notes, which is reproduced as Map 1 to this study, depicted nine line segments (dashes) encircling waters, islands, and other features of the South China Sea. Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines subsequently objected to the contents of China’s 2009 Notes, including by asserting that China’s claims reflected in the dashed-line map are without basis under the international law of the sea. In 2011, China requested that another Note Verbale be communicated to UN Member States, which reiterated the first sentence excerpted above, and added that “China’s sovereignty and related rights and jurisdiction in the South China Sea are supported by abundant historical and legal evidence.”

China has not clarified through legislation, proclamation, or other official statements the legal basis or nature of its claim associated with the dashed-line map. Accordingly, this Limits in the Seas study examines several possible interpretations of the dashed-line claim and the extent to which those interpretations are consistent with the international law of the sea.


Download: China-Maritime Claims in the South China Sea (US State Department 5-12-14).pdf (Full text PDF)