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U.N. Sea-Bed Committee

The Struggle in Defence of Maritime Rights

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #13, March 30, 1973, pp. 9-12.]

The U.N. Sea-Bed Committee opened its first session of this year in New York on March 5. The Sub-committee II began its substantive debate on March 9. Representatives from many developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America spoke at the meetings expressing the determination to safeguard their national sovereignty and interests and oppose the superpowers’ plunder.

On March 20, Chuang Yen, chief representative of the Chinese delegation to the meeting of the U.N. Sea-Bed Committee, made a speech at its Sub-committee II on the question of territorial sea and exclusive economic zone. He expressed support for the just stand of the Asian, African and Latin American countries and opposed the impudent and preposterous act of the one or two superpowers in imposing their one-sided opinions on others in disregard of the sovereignty and national economic interests of other countries. Following are excerpts of his speech. Subheads are ours. —Ed.

A MAJOR question of principle is involved in the present international struggle over territorial sea rights. It is: Who shall determine the limits of the territorial sea and the limits of national jurisdiction of a state? Shall it be dictated by the one or two superpowers, or shall it be determined reasonably by each state according to its own specific conditions?

In order to contend for maritime hegemony and plunder the coastal resources of other countries, the superpowers are striving to narrow down as much as possible the limits of territorial seas and national jurisdiction of other countries, particularly the numerous countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Disregarding the sovereignty and national economic interests of other countries, they keep on imposing their one-sided opinions on others. Having fixed for itself a three-nautical-mile territorial sea, one of the superpowers won’t allow others to exceed three nautical miles. The other superpower, because it has set a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles, won’t allow others to exceed that limit. Naturally, such arbitrary bullying is strongly opposed by the numerous small and medium-sized countries. At the 1958 and 1960 Geneva Conferences on the Law of the Sea, the superpowers tried but failed to dictate the breadth of territorial seas on other countries. Now that a new international conference on the law of the sea is about to be convened, the superpowers attempt to confine the territorial seas and national jurisdiction of other countries to a limit of 12 nautical miles. We should keep high vigilance over such a conspiracy.

Each Country Has the Right to Determine Its Territorial Sea Limits

We hold that it is the sovereign right of each country to determine the limits of its territorial sea and national jurisdiction, and that the one or two superpowers should certainly not have the decisive say. The Chinese delegation will never accept such dictation in utter disregard of the sovereignty of other countries. Nor will the numerous bullied and oppressed countries and countries which uphold justice ever accept the will of the superpowers.

Natural conditions differ in various parts of the world. The length and curvature of the coastlines of coastal countries, the depth and inclination of the sea-bed along their coasts, the specific conditions of their coastal resources and the joining of neighbouring countries in the same sea area are diversified. Moreover, the needs of economic development and national security differ for the people of each country. It is, therefore, entirely proper, legitimate and irreproachable for coastal countries to delimit in a reasonable way their own territorial seas according to their specific natural conditions, taking into account the needs for the development of their national economy and for their national security. To require uniformity and deny particularity on this matter will lead to a dead end. Of course, this does not preclude the possibility of neighbouring countries in a given area, which have common natural conditions and state interests, agreeing through consultations on a unified breadth of territorial seas for the area.

The policy of aggression and expansion of the one or two superpowers and their frantic competition in plundering the resources of other countries have long been seriously impairing and endangering the economic interests and state sovereignty of the numerous developing countries. To safeguard their national security and resources, many Latin American countries have declared 200 nautical miles to be the extent of their territorial seas and national jurisdiction in accordance with their geographical, geological and marine biological features and the need for the rational use of their resources. Countries of Asia and Africa have also defined the breadth of their respective territorial seas, of which quite a few exceed 12 nautical miles, extending from 18 to 25, 30, 130 or 200 nautical miles. We hold that this is a matter of their proper and legitimate rights and interests, which should be respected by other countries. As a developing country, China extends her profound sympathy for the measures taken by Asian, African and Latin American countries to protect their resources, and resolutely supports their struggle in safeguarding state sovereignty and opposing the superpowers’ plunder. But since their position stands in the way of the superpowers’ ambitions for hegemony on the seas and oceans, it has been stubbornly opposed by the superpowers. Recently, a superpower, which styles itself a “friend” of the developing countries, openly attacked the Latin American countries for this act of sovereignty, charging them with what it called “a unilateral action,” “expansion of their own frontiers,” “infringement of the legitimate rights and interests of other countries,” and even a “violation of international law.” The following questions naturally arise: Whose permission did you ask when you laid down the extent of your territorial seas? When you send your warships and fishing vessels to barge at will into the offshore areas of other countries and to wantonly plunder their resources, how far have you extended your frontiers? Who is it, really, that has been infringing on the legitimate rights and interests of other countries? Who has brutally trampled on the principle of sovereignty in international law? Is it not you yourselves?

Soviet Stand Does Not Hold Water

In his March 13 statement, the Soviet representative did his utmost to make the breadth of the territorial sea of the Soviet Union the only standard for the limits of territorial seas of various countries throughout the world. This is quite ridiculous and absolutely untenable. As is well known, the Soviet Government at the time of Lenin consistently stood for the respect and defence of the sovereignty of all states and opposed the tsarist great-power chauvinism and hegemonism of imposing its views on others. At that time, the Soviet Union, proceeding from her own specific conditions, delimited the breadth of her territorial sea at 12 nautical miles. This is her sovereign right. However, this does not mean in any way that the limits of the territorial seas of all other countries of the world must not exceed 12 nautical miles. Lenin stated explicitly. “We must decree nothing from Moscow” to other countries. Yet the present leaders of the Soviet Government have fundamentally betrayed Lenin’s teachings. Assuming the air of an overlord of the world, they try to subject all other countries of the world to their orders. What they have inherited are not the great teachings of Lenin, but the hegemonism of the tsars.

Harbouring ulterior motives, the Soviet representative further asserted in his statement that “the wider the territorial seas of the coastal states is, the less possibility there is for the land-locked countries to take advantage of the seas”; and that “any wilful claim by the coastal states to extend limit to wider territorial seas or wider sea areas will be particularly unfavourable to the countries with no access to seas” and so on and so forth, as if he were especially concerned for the interests of the landlocked states. However, the actual state of affairs at present is that the superpowers have been lording it over others in the seas and oceans, while large numbers of the developing countries, both coastal and land-locked, have no rights. The sole purpose of the superpowers in their attempt to confine the territorial seas of other countries within 12 nautical miles is nothing but to enable their own warships to prowl recklessly everywhere and do whatever they please in the seas and oceans and their fishing fleets to carry out unbridled plunder of the offshore marine resources of other countries. Is this for the interests of the land-locked states? By putting up the signboard of “safe-guarding the interests of the land-locked states,” they aim at realizing their ambition to dominate the seas and oceans. They have been manufacturing contradictions, fermenting disunity and dissension among the developing countries in an attempt to cover up their schemes for aggression, intimidation and plunder. This evil tactics calls for our serious vigilance.

The Question of Exclusive Economic Zone

Another matter of principle in dispute is whether a coastal state has the right to delimit an exclusive economic zone beyond its territorial sea.

Geographically, the shallow sea area off the coast of a country is the natural extension of its land territory. There are abundant mineral and fishery resources in this sea area and its sea-bed, which are an integral part of its natural resources and have a close bearing on the development of its national economy. At present the one or two superpowers are dispatching many so-called survey ships, fishing fleets, etc., all over the world to barge into the coastal seas of other countries at will, freely gather intelligence about and plunder their marine resources. This is out-and-out piracy, of which numerous Asian, African and Latin American countries have become direct victims. Take the case of fishery. According to relevant sources, most of the catches in the near seas off the west African coast have been made by distant fishing-powers, predominantly the superpowers. While fishery production of the coastal states remains very unstable, the total catch of the superpowers has shot upwards. The 1968 catch made by the Soviet Union in this sea area more than doubled that of 1967 and amounted to 45 per cent of the aggregate catch of 11 coastal states in this area. Owing to the wanton plunder by the superpowers, fishing resources in certain near-coast sea areas are seriously dwindling, or have even become exhausted. Therefore, many developing countries strongly demand the delimiting of exclusive fishing zones in order to prevent and resist plunder from outside. Yet, this reasonable and just demand is doggedly opposed by the superpowers. As a matter of fact, the superpowers have also delimited “forbidden fishing zones” and “controlled zones” to preserve their fishery resources in near-coast sea areas. For example, in its decision of March 21, 1956, “on protecting salmon and trout resources in the Far East and regulating their catch,” the Government of the Soviet Union unilaterally put a large area under its control, extending as far as more than 400 nautical miles from its coast. While refusing fishing boats of other countries access to its own coastal areas for fishing, the Soviet Government has been sending many fishing fleets far away from their own country to fish indiscriminately in the coastal areas of some developing countries by taking advantage of their lag in technology. It has even sold the fish caught there to the local countries at high prices so as to extort foreign currency, and does not allow the coastal states to take measures to protect their own resources. Is this not out-and-out hegemonism!

Here we would like to mention in passing the “suggestion” on fishing distributed recently by the Soviet delegation. In that suggestion, a few lines on so-called forms of “compensation” for coastal states are included in addition to the reiteration of the “draft article on fishing” submitted by the Soviet Union last year. Ostensibly, this seems to show consideration for the interests of coastal states, but in fact, this is designed simply to cover up its acts of unbridled plunder and destruction of the fishery resources of coastal states and unreasonably to reject the latter’s proposition for delimitation of exclusive economic zones or fishing zones. Such tactics can deceive nobody; nor will it in any way shake the strong determination of the developing countries to preserve their coastal fishery resources and safeguard their state sovereignty.

Principle of Consultations on Equal Footing

Owing to the fact that the breadth of the territorial sea varies with different countries, we consider that it is in the exercise of the sovereignty of a state to reasonably define, in accordance with their specific conditions and the need for the development of their national economies, the scope of their jurisdiction over economic resources beyond their territorial seas, using the names of exclusive economic zone, continental shelf, patrimonial sea or fishing zone, etc. Neighbouring countries situated in a common sea area should equitably allot their limits of jurisdiction through consultations on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

Other countries can engage in activities in the exclusive economic zone of a given country only when they have secured its consent by concluding necessary agreements with it through consultations on an equal footing and on the basis of respect for its sovereignty. Moreover, they should strictly observe its relevant regulations and measures. They enjoy the convenience of normal navigation and overflight through its exclusive economic zone provided they do not prejudice its security, or affect its fishing activities and its exploration and exploitation of sea-bed resources therein.

Some developing countries have proposed that the coastal state should grant to a developing land-locked country adjacent to its territory certain rights and facilities in its exclusive economic zone with respect to exploitation of resources and transit. This opinion merits attention. We maintain that considerations should be given to the reasonable demands of the land-locked countries. The coastal state should, in principle, grant to its neighbouring land-locked state common enjoyment in certain proportion of the rights of ownership and jurisdiction in its economic zone, and as to concrete practice, a reasonable solution should be sought through consultations by countries concerned.

Developing countries should strengthen their solidarity, show mutual understanding and accommodation, uphold principle and carry on a joint struggle so as to effectively safeguard their national economic interests and make their due contributions in the work of creating a new law of the sea.

At present, the international struggle to defend maritime rights initiated by Latin American countries is developing vigorously, and times are advancing continuously. A new system of law of the sea must meet the requirements of our epoch. On the question of the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone, the superpowers must not be allowed to continue to truculently disregard the sovereignty and interests of the great majority of countries. The Chinese Government and people will firmly stand together with those countries and peoples suffering from aggression, bullying and plunder and with all those who uphold justice, and work together with them for a reasonable solution to the problem of maritime rights.

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