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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Policy Paper 19: Maritime Jurisdiction in the Three China Seas


The three China Seas (the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea) are all enclosed or semi-enclosed and studded with so many offshore and mid-ocean islands that nowhere does the distance from one headland or island to another approach 400 nautical miles. With the extension of national jurisdiction over maritime resources, no seabed in the area is left unclaimed.

China has maritime jurisdictional disputes with other coastal states bordering on the China Seas. The controversies involve two dimensions: territorial sovereignty over islands, and relevant jurisdictional rights and interests in maritime demarcation. The territorial disputes are a legacy of history, and the demarcation disputes are mainly due to differing interpretations of the law of the sea.

In the post-Cold War Asia Pacific, economic development is the primary task for all regional countries. As demand for marine resources becomes more and more pressing, new approaches are needed for a negotiated settlement of these problems. Disputing parties must cooperate in seeking an equitable solution. The paper outlines three options for the settlement of maritime jurisdictional disputes in the three China Seas.

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