Asian Journal of International Law

Articles

Dots and Lines in the South China Sea: Insights from the Law of Map Evidence

Erik FRANCKXa1 c1* and Marco BENATARa1 c1**

a1 Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Abstract

On 7 May 2009, the People's Republic of China (PRC) protested Vietnamese and joint Malaysian-Vietnamese submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). In support of Chinese claims, a map was annexed to the letter of protest portraying a dotted U-shaped line engulfing the greater part of the South China Sea. Following a brief primer on the genesis of the U-line, this article aims to decipher the text of the protest letter accompanying the U-line, suggesting several possible interpretations. This contribution argues that the map is of doubtful probative value in the light of various factors fleshed out in international jurisprudence regarding map evidence. Attention will be paid to the reactions of third-party states to the U-line. This article maintains that effective protest on the part of regional states has prevented the map from becoming opposable to them.

Footnotes

* Research Professor, President of the Department of International and European Law and Director of the Centre for International Law, Vrije Universiteit Brussel; Member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The substance of this article was prepared for the Second International Workshop organized by the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam and the Vietnam Lawyers Association, entitled “The South China Sea: Cooperation for Regional Security and Development”, 10–12 November 2010, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. This article is a revised version of the paper—“Dotted Lines in the South China Sea: Fishing for (Legal) Clarity”—presented at the Workshop.

** Doctoral Fellow, Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO). Member of the Department of International and European Law and the Centre for International Law, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.