Concern over the South China Sea

In “China’s demographic history and future challenges” (special section on Population, Review, X. Peng, 29 July 2011, p. 581), the maps of China show a U-shaped curve enclosing most of the South China Sea and its islands (the Paracels and Spratlys), clearly implying that the colored area within the curve belongs to China. However, these islands are subject to territorial disputes between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan. To show these islands unambiguously as Chinese territory is therefore questionable, especially when they are almost uninhabited and irrelevant to the population study in the Review.

The U-shaped curve in the map is even less justifiable. It appears only in Chinese maps and has been claimed by Chinese authors to represent China’s traditional maritime boundaries (1). It was used officially by China (2) to claim “sovereign rights and jurisdiction” over the resources of the South China Sea. Wherever it appears, such as in Figure 1 from (2), this curve blatantly infringes other countries’ 200–nautical-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) as recognized by international law (3). It extends beyond the mid-line between the disputed islands and other countries’ coastlines, and thus constitutes a much wider claim than the waters associated with these islands.

China’s unilateral claim over vast expanses of ocean is unprecedented in world history and violates the United Nations Law of the Sea (3), which all nations surrounding the South China Sea, including China, have ratified. That China pushes this claim seriously is not in doubt, as evidenced by recent incidents in which Chinese vessels harassed Vietnamese oil exploration ships well inside Vietnam’s EEZ (4).

No other nation recognizes China’s U-shaped maritime border. Indonesia and the Philippines have officially expressed concern (5, 6). The U.S. Senate passed a unanimous resolution deploring China’s actions (7). There is no justification for such a controversial, and, in terms of international law, illegal feature in a scholarly paper. One can only hope that its presence was not due to political pressure.

Tuan Quang Pham

School of Chemical Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2166, Australia.

Liem Nguyen, Minh Khanh Nguyen

Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.

Tien Khoa Dao

Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology, Ha Noi, Vietnam.

Anh Tuan Kiet Hoang

Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energie, Cadarache 13108, France.

Quang Thiep Lam

Thang Long University, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Suan Li Mai

Institute of Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, 02-666 Warsaw, Poland.

Dang Hung Nguyen

University of Liege, 4000 Liege, Belgium.

Duc Hiep Nguyen

NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney, NSW 1232, Australia.

Van Hieu Nguyen

University of Technology and Management, Hanoi, Vietnam.

Luong Quang Nguyen

Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energie, 91191 Saclay, France.

Thanh Van Tran

Université Paris-Sud, 91405 Orsay, France.

Duy-Thoai Pham

Charité University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany.


1. J. Li, D. Li, Ocean Dev. Int. Law 34, 287 (2003).

2. China’s Communication to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), 7 May 2009; www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/mysvnm33_09/chn_2009re_m....

3. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/closindx.htm.

4. “Vietnam says China fishing boat rams research ship,” The Straights Times, 9 June 2011; www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/SEAsia/Story/STIStory_678024.html.

5. Indonesia’s Communication to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), 8 July 2010; www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/mysvnm33_09/idn_2010re_m....

6. The Philippines’s Communication to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), 5 April 2011; www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/mysvnm33_09/phl_re_chn_2....

7. Sen. J. Webb, “U.S. Senate unanimously ‘deplores’ China’s use of force in South China Sea,” 27 June 2011; http://webb.senate.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/06-27-2011.cfm.

(Source: Sciencemag.org)

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