China has conducted extensive land reclamation work at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands chain in the East Sea. (Photo: AP)
In the joint note verbale dated September 17, the three European countries outline that they are state parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that China’s continued exercise of their ‘historic rights’ over the East Sea fails to comply with international law and the 1982 UNCLOS.
They therefore underline the importance of “unhampered exercise of the freedom of the high seas, in particular the freedom of navigation and overflight, and of the right of innocent passage enshrined in UNCLOS, including in the East Sea.”
The three nations maintain their position of supporting a peaceful resolution of the maritime claims in the East Sea that are in accordance with the UNCLOS principles and relevant dispute settlement procedures.
“This position is reaffirmed without prejudice to competing claims of coastal states over disputed territorial sovereignty to naturally formed land features and to areas of the continental shelf in the East Sea on which France, Germany, and the United Kingdom take no position,” the note verbale reads.
As state parties to the 1982 UNCLOS, the European countries have vowed to “continue to uphold and assert their rights and freedoms as enshrined in UNCLOS and to contribute to promoting co-operation in the region as set out under the Convention.”
In an interview granted to Tien Phong daily September 17, Dr. Hoang Viet, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City Law School, said the move shows that the European powers have been closely monitoring the situation in the East Sea and therefore view events there as important.
As a result, this rejection signals a fresh development in the East Sea moving forward, Dr. Viet noted.
Upon analysing the joint move, the Vietnamese lecturer said the three countries hold the same view that the UNCLOS is a legally binding legal document which should be fully observed globally.
Furthermore, the joint action of the European countries to make a stand indicates that China’s exercise of their ‘historic rights’ over the East Sea can be viewed as a violation of international law, in addition to the 1982 UNCLOS, which had already been affirmed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in its 2016 ruling.
In 2016 the court supported the Philippines in its lawsuit against China, stating that Beijing had no legal basis to claim historic rights over the majority of the East Sea through their “nine-dash line” claim, although the northern neighbour has repeatedly refused to honour the ruling.
Alongside France, Germany, and the UK, both the United States and Australia have also voiced their strong opposition to China’s East Sea claims last July.