Warships of Australia, the US, and Japan conduct a drill in the Philippine Sea, near the East Sea in July, 2020. (Photo: US Navy)
The world has witnessed a "war of diplomatic notes" related to the East Sea starting with Malaysia's submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf last December information on the limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. Subsequently, many other countries sent notes and letters protesting China's actions in the East Sea.
In September, Britain, France, and Germany sent notes to the UN expressing their common view on the East Sea, emphasizing UNCLOS 1982 as establishing a legal framework for maritime activities worldwide. Jointly supporting freedom of navigation and overflight in the East Sea, the note is specific about the right of innocent passage through territorial waters.
Mr. Bui Thanh Son, Member of the Party Central Committee and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, speaks at the 12th International Conference on the East Sea
(Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam)
The Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, the US, and Australia all sent notes opposing China's arguments. To date, there have been more than 20 diplomatic notes and statements from countries all over the world. The notes condemned China's claims, saying the so-called "9-dashed line" is contrary to international law and UNCLOS. They affirmed that UNCLOS is an important legal document, which plays a fundamental role in solving maritime problems and that the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling is an important part of international law and UNCLOS that China should respect.
Towards East Sea security and safety
The use of notes shows that countries have focused on international law, especially UNCLOS as a basis to settle disputes rather than taking actions that may trigger confrontation or a military conflict.
The East Sea issue has been addressed frequently at regional and global forums: the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defense Minister Meeting (ADMM), and the ASEAN Defense Minister Meeting Plus (ADMM +) to the G20 Summit and the Asia-Europe Cooperation Forum (ASEM). All countries desire peace, stability, security, safety, freedom of navigation and overflight, non-militarization, and restraint from complications and tensions, and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law including UNCLOS. Countries support full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and early completion of an effective Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).
A safe, secure and prosperous East Sea is what countries are aiming for. Recent developments suggest that the world can hope for a more peaceful and stable East Sea in 2021.