Beijing meets UN deadline for divisive seabed details

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 May, 2009, 12:00am

China has submitted information about its seabed baseline to the United Nations in a gesture to demonstrate its maritime sovereignty amidst increasing tensions over territorial disputes.

The information was submitted to the UN's Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as required by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. The deadline for all countries is today.

But the ministry was vague on the content of the information, prompting speculation that the submission could have left out information on the controversial South China Sea, portions of which are claimed by nine countries and Taiwan.

Ma Zhaoxu, a ministry spokesman, would say only that the document submitted included part of the East China Sea's continental shelf. But Dr Ma did not reveal whether information on the South China Sea was included.

'China has indisputable sovereignty, sovereignty rights and jurisdiction rights on the South China Sea,' he said. 'China reserved the right to submit information on the continental shelf in other seas.'

Dr Ma said the government would continue to resolve demarcation issues with other countries through 'peaceful negotiation'.

The Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs, which was recently established by the ministry to deal with territorial disputes, refused to comment.

Under the UN convention, the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles of a state's 'archipelagic baseline' falls within the state's sovereignty.

The requirement to define continental shelves before today resulted in intensifying rows over the South China Sea as Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines raced to reiterate their claims.

Last week, China posted a statement on the website of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and urged the agency not to review a submission from Vietnam and a joint submission from Malaysia and Vietnam.

China and the two countries had laid claims to the Spratly and Paracel islands.

While the dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea has been a major stumbling block in the long-time rivals' relationship, experts said that Beijing faced a far more complicated challenge in dealing with the many neighbours vying for sovereignty and rich resources in the South China Sea.

Judging from the foreign ministry's remarks, some experts said it was likely China did not include the South China Sea in the submission.

Zhang Yunling, director of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, said the likely omission of information on the South China Sea showed that China would prefer to resolve the disputes through negotiation.

By doing so, Professor Zhang said, China could avoid further complicating its relations with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.