By Romel Regalado Bagares
While the Chinese Communist Party wrestled with the challenges of political transition at home (including sex scandals, corruption and murder in the highest echelons of power), the Chinese government has been picking quarrels with its much smaller neighbours over maritime territory.
Tensions over territorial disputes across the Asian region have led observers to wonder whether a China with immense economic needs and superpower ambitions is actually able to follow rules-based maritime regime under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) vital to regional cooperation and stability.
Law of the Sea in the disputes
The UNCLOS establishes the reach of a coastal state’s 12- nautical mile territorial sea, 24-nautical mile contiguous zone, 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone, 200-nautical mile Continental Shelf and its 150-nautical mile extension. It also provides rules for the exploitation of mineral and marine resources found in the sea and the seabed as well as for resolving conflicting maritime claims.
With Japan, China appears to have recently come dangerously close to a shooting war in a dispute over the five small uninhabited islands and three rocks of the Senkaku in the East China Sea.
Japan has accused a Chinese warship of locking its fire-control radar on a Japanese destroyer in the high seas near the islands —definitely an escalation from previous confrontations between Japan and another claimant-nation, Taiwan, where ships from both sides engaged one another in water cannon -duels.
Indeed, China, which treats Taiwan as an estranged province, denies the Japanese charge.
Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, an area rich in oil, gas and fishing resources, China is locked in a long-standing dispute with several Southeast Asian nations over the Spratly group of islands, namely, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia.
China, a signatory to the UNCLOS, justifies its territorial and maritime claims in the region through its Nine-Dash Line declaration.