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Reviewed by:
  • Sharing the Resources of the South China Sea
  • James C. F. Wang (bio)
Mark J. Valencia, Jon M. Van Dyke, and Noel A. Ludwig. Sharing the Resources of the South China Sea. The Hague, Boston, and London: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1997. 277pp. Hardcover $121.00, ISBN 90-411-0411-9.

Sharing the Resources of the South China Searepresents the most comprehensive study of multinational claims in this region by focusing on the disputes over the Spratly Islands. For anyone interested in the South China Sea disputes, and particularly for those concerned with policy making and negotiation, this book is an indispensable reference. Two of the authors—Mark Valencia and Jon Van Dyke—have already written extensively on the Spratly Islands, disputes in the South China Sea, and the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.

The Spratly Islands consist of some thirty islets and submerged reefs or rocks. There is no permanent resident population on these islets, as many of them are above water only at low tide. Only in recent years, when petroleum and natural gas reserves were discovered in the surrounding archipelago, did they become the focus of attention. Sovereignty over them has been claimed either wholly or in part by six Asian nations—China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.

The dispute over the Spratly Islands intensified when, in February 1992, China's National People's Congress enacted a law claiming sovereignty over them. Then, in May 1992, the Chinese granted an American oil company a concession to explore the region between the Spratly Islands and the southern coast of Vietnam. China then declared its willingness to use force to protect its drilling activities. In June 1995, China erected platforms on Mischief Reef, some 250 kilometers from Palawan in the Philippines, and China's action was followed by Vietnam and the Philippines. Also in June 1995, Vietnam retained a Washington-based law firm for the purpose of preparing litigation on Vietnam's rights to oil and gas deposits in two areas of the Spratlys claimed by both China and Vietnam. As a countermeasure [End Page 537]to the construction on Mischief Reef, the Philippine troops stationed in the contested area engaged in training for special warfare.

This book reviews the various claims over the Spratlys, for example by Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei, and discusses the weaknesses of these claims in the political context of the South China Sea region. The authors assert that the disputes "have broad geopolitical implications reaching far beyond ownership" of the Spratly islets. They point out that the process by which a peaceful and equitable settlement of these disputes might be attained points toward a trend in regional relationships in Asia.

A lengthy discussion and analysis is offered in chapter 3, covering the complicated question of maritime space and resources delimitation under international law, particularly under the provisions of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. The central issues considered include whether the Spratly islets have the legal capacity to "generate an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf" under Articles 46-50 (regarding archipelagic waters), 55-57, or 76-82 of the Convention. Then there is also the fundamental issue in international law concerning the title to claims by discovery. The authors briefly review the 1928 Palmasand the 1932 Clippertonarbitration award cases, as well as the rulings by the International Court of Justice at the Hague on the Les Minquiersand Les Ecrehoucases of 1953 and the Gulf of Fonsecacase of 1992. They then conclude that "discovery alone does not give sufficient title" and that there must also be "effective occupation" or the exercise of authority, despite the assertions by claimant nations of their "historic links"—to the barren islets in the Spratlys case. The authors point out that China has never declared an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf around the Spratly islets, as required by the 1982 Convention, which was ratified by China's National People's Congress in 1996. (Articles 55 and 57 of the Convention define the exclusive economic zone as not more than two hundred nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured...


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