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U.N. Sea-Bed Committee

Superpowers’ Maritime Hegemony Opposed

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #15, April 13, 1973, pp. 13-16.]

Opened on March 5, the first U.N. Sea-Bed Committee session of 1973 concluded on the afternoon of April 6. The session was held to make further preparations for the Third Conference on the Law of the Sea.

In the course of this month-long session, representatives from the small and medium-sized countries voiced their opposition to the superpowers’ maritime hegemony and their determination to defend the sovereignty and interests of their countries. The Chinese representatives expressed firm support for the just stand and reasonable proposals of these countries.

Speaking at the March 27 meeting of Sub-Committee I of the U.N. Sea-Bed Committee discussing questions on the international machinery in the international sea-bed area, Chinese Representative Hsia Pu stressed that the superpowers absolutely should not be allowed to exercise exclusive control over the international machinery and that the principles of equality among big and small nations, rational geographical representation and rotation of offices by election should be applied. At the March 29 meeting of Sub-committee II, Chinese Representative Shen Wei-liang made a speech on the four Geneva conventions on the law of the sea. Chuang Yen, Chief Representative of the Chinese Delegation, spoke on April 5 at the Sub-Committee II meeting, refuting the Soviet Representative Malik’s absurd assertions on the questions of territorial sea and exclusive economic zones. In Sub-Committee III debates on marine scientific research, the Chinese representative pointed out that in carrying out the research, the sovereignty of all countries should be respected and that the superpowers’ monopoly of such research should be broken.

Following are excerpts from Chinese Representative Shen Wei-liang’s speech and the summary of the speech by Chief Representative of the Chinese Delegation Chuang Yen at Sub-Committee II of the U.N. Sea-Bed Committee. —Ed.

Shen Wei-liang’s Speech:

Support for a New Convention on the Law of Sea

IN 1958 when the First Conference on the Law of the Sea was held, many Asian and African countries had not yet won independence. Asian, African and Latin American countries made up only about half of the 80-odd countries then participating in the conference. And owing to manipulation by the imperialist powers, their many reasonable propositions were not adopted. Thus, the four Geneva conventions have completely failed to reflect truly the reasonable demands of the numerous developing countries. In the decade and more since then, profound changes have taken place in the world situation. All countries, big or small, should be equal. International affairs should be settled by all countries through consultations on an equal footing. Opinions of the third world should be fully respected. The representatives of many countries have now pointed out that the four conventions do not meet the needs of our epoch and should be rewritten. This is well-founded. This just demand was reflected in the list of subjects and issues relating to the law of the sea approved last year by the Sea-Bed Committee, which covered various topics relating to the maritime law to be discussed at the Third Conference on the Law of the Sea. However, the superpowers are doing their utmost to maintain the four Geneva conventions. As everyone is aware, one of the superpowers demanded the inclusion in the list of an item entitled: “measures which must be taken to ensure the universal participation of states in ... the Geneva conventions of 1958.” This attempt failed only because of the strong opposition of many countries.

What is the real purpose of the superpowers in defending so obstinately the outmoded four Geneva conventions? The answer can be found by a mere glance at the main provisions of the four conventions.

The Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone

With their unbridled ambition to carve up and dominate the seas and oceans, the superpowers are trying hard to narrow down the territorial seas of other coastal states. At the 1958 Conference on the Law of the Sea, the head of the delegation of a superpower attempted to impose upon other countries the three-nautical-mile breadth of the territorial sea as a so-called principle of international law. But after the conference he publicly admitted that he was opposed to a broader territorial sea not “simply” from consideration of international law, but “for compelling military and commercial reasons,” Because, if a broader territorial sea was agreed on, the operations of the air and naval forces of his country would be “seriously impeded.” The other superpower opposed the three-nautical-mile rule, being at the time nominally for “safeguarding the sovereignty of all states.” But as its own territorial sea was 12 nautical miles, it tried to confine those of all other countries to the same breadth. Though they held two propositions, the purpose was the same, that is, to contend for the domination of the seas and oceans. Thanks to the unflinching struggle of some small and medium-sized countries, the 1958 conference did not make explicit provisions on the breadth of the territorial sea. But the convention on the territorial sea and the contiguous zone stipulates in paragraph 2 of article 24 that “the contiguous zone may not extend beyond 12 miles from the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.” It is this paragraph that the superpowers are attempting to use as a so-called “legal basis” for opposing the developing countries in their struggle to defend their territorial sea rights.

Another important question concerning the territorial sea is the right of passage through the territorial sea. Article 14 of the afore-mentioned convention provides in general terms that ships of all states shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through territorial seas. That is to say, it may be interpreted that foreign military ships enjoy the same right. This is obviously unacceptable to many countries. As is well known, legislations of many countries expressly provide that prior approval or notice is imperative for foreign military ships to pass through their territorial seas. This is a matter within the sovereignty of a coastal state—a point even admitted by the draft convention originally put forward by the International Law Commission. However, the above-mentioned article in the convention has actually written off at one stroke this lawful right of the coastal states. Besides, article 16 of the convention stipulates that there shall be no suspension of the innocent passage of foreign ships through straits which are used for international navigation. This blatantly deprives coastal states with such straits of the right to exercise sovereignty over their own territorial seas. Consequently, foreign warships and submarines can intrude unimpededly into the straits within the territorial sea limits of coastal states in disregard of their security. Is it not crystal clear whose interests these unjustifiable provisions serve?

The Convention on the High Seas

A small number of maritime powers have long dominated the seas and oceans and run amuck by utilizing the so-called “freedom of the high seas.” The convention on the high seas further stipulates explicitly the so-called “four freedoms” of the high seas (that is, so-called freedom of passage, freedom of fishing, freedom of laying and maintenance of submarine cables or pipelines at sea-bed and freedom of flying over high seas -Ed.).

During the First Conference on the Law of the Sea held in 1958, the representative of the United States disclosed that the Soviet Union had dispatched to all parts of the world nearly a hundred mammoth “factory ships,” which were capable of undertaking the whole process of fishery production on the sea, and that consequently, “many countries, such as Iceland, the new states of Africa and Asia and the west coast countries of South America became alarmed.” In turn, the Soviet representative accused the United States of carrying out naval and air manoeuvres near the coasts of other countries in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea by taking advantage of the “freedom of the high seas” and thus posing a serious threat to those coastal states. This shows that the so-called “four freedoms” in effect allow the superpowers to enjoy hegemony while bringing disasters to the small and weak countries. Some coastal countries have had bitter experience in this respect.

At present, activities of the superpowers on the seas and oceans have greatly increased as compared with 1958. It can thus be seen that the “four freedoms” of the high seas are, in essence, freedoms of superpower aggression, threat and plunder against other countries, particularly the developing countries, and freedoms of superpower hegemony and power politics. Should such “freedoms” be permitted to continue today in the 1970s?

The Convention on Fishing and Conservation
Of the Living Resources of the High Seas

Article 7 of the convention requires that measures taken by coastal states for the conservation of resources “do not discriminate in form or in fact against foreign fishermen.” This, in reality, serves to provide legal justification for the superpowers to plunder the fishery resources of other countries. At present, the one or two superpowers, relying on their maritime superiority, are dispatching large numbers of fishing fleets to wantonly intrude into the off-shore areas of other countries and plunder their fishery resources on a large scale. The above-mentioned provision serves no other purpose than to leave the door wide open to such acts of their piracy. This has been fully proved by the fact that in the last decade the annual catch of the Soviet Union from distant water fishing constitutes over three-fourths of its total output.

The Convention an the Continental Shelf

Three out of the only seven articles forming the operative part of the convention are designed to uphold “the freedom of the high seas.” For instance, article 3 stipulates that the rights of a coastal state over the continental shelf do not affect the legal status of the superjacent waters as high seas, or that of the air space above those waters. Article 4 includes a specific clause against impediment to the laying and maintenance of submarine cables or pipelines on the continental shelf. Under article 5, there are many more specific provisions: Paragraph 1 stipulates that exploitation of the continental shelf must not interfere with navigation, fishing, the conservation of resources and scientific research. Paragraph 6 says that installations or devices for exploitation must not interfere with international navigation. Paragraph 8 stipulates that a coastal state shall not normally withhold its consent to the request of “purely scientific research” into the continental shelf, etc. In a word, no one is allowed to prejudice or affect the so-called “four freedoms” of the superpowers.

It is worth noting that the Soviet representative stated at the conference that “if no kind of scientific research into the continental shelf could be undertaken without the consent of the coastal state, much valuable purely scientific work would be stopped.” But later the Soviet Government promulgated its own legislation which prohibits surveying or any other activities on its continental shelf unless there is agreement or special permission. This double standard fully reveals the true features of a maritime overlord.

It is not difficult to see from the above analysis that the outmoded four Geneva conventions on the law of the sea are fundamentally in the interests of the superpowers in pursuing maritime hegemony and not to the advantage of the large numbers of developing countries in their just struggle to defend their sovereignty and national economic interests. If the four Geneva conventions should be taken as the basis in the forthcoming new conference on the law of the sea, it would in effect mean forcing all other countries to accept the maritime overlord position of the superpowers and submit to their orders and manipulation. This is absolutely unacceptable to us. Therefore, the Chinese Delegation firmly supports the opinion of the delegations of many small and medium-sized countries that at the Third Conference on the Law of the Sea a new and comprehensive convention should be worked out to replace the four Geneva conventions. We are deeply convinced that this will be in the interests of the people of all countries.

Chuang Yen’s Speech:

Soviet Revisionist Representative’s Absurd Assertions Refuted

CHUANG Yen, Chief Representative of the Chinese Delegation, pointed out in his speech: “The Soviet representative alleged that the breadth of the territorial sea of one hundred countries including China had not exceeded 12 nautical miles and that, therefore, the Soviet Union was not imposing its views on others by proposing 12 nautical miles as the maximum limit for the territorial sea of all countries. It must be pointed out that the essence of the matter is who should determine the limit of the territorial sea of a country, and not the question of how many countries have set 12 nautical miles as the limit of their territorial seas. The Chinese Delegation has always held that all coastal countries are entitled to determine reasonably the limits of their territorial seas according to their specific natural conditions, taking into account the needs of their security and national economic development. The People’s Republic of China declared in 1958 the limit of her territorial sea to be 12 nautical miles. But we have never been opposed to the territorial sea of other countries exceeding 12 nautical miles. Many other countries have adopted such a reasonable stand. Now what is the position of the Soviet Union? Having set 12 nautical miles as the limit of its territorial sea, it insists on not allowing the territorial sea of other countries to exceed 12 nautical miles; otherwise, it will arbitrarily charge others with so-called ‘violation of international law’ and so on and so forth. In fact it is insisting on imposing its own will on others. Is this not the tyrant’s way?”

Real Purpose of Opposing Establishment
Of Exclusive Economic Zones

He added that the Soviet representative has done his utmost to oppose the reasonable demand of the developing countries for the delimitation of exclusive economic zones, asserting that this would not necessarily be favourable to the developing countries, and even alleging with ulterior purpose that in Africa it would only be in the interest of South Africa. These absurd assertions were immediately and effectively refuted by many representatives. It is entirely legitimate for the developing countries to demand a reasonable delimitation of exclusive economic zones in order to resist the superpowers’ plunder of their coastal fishery resources and to protect their national economic interests. But strangely enough, a self-styled “protector” of the interests of the developing countries has gone so far as to desperately oppose this just and reasonable demand. What really is the reason for all this? It can be seen from an abundance of information that the Soviet Union has gone to an appalling extent in plundering fishery resources in the seas of Latin America and Africa and the Arabian Sea.

Chuang Yen stated, “Numerous facts have shown that the Soviet Union is an avaricious plunderer of the fishery resources of the world. Here, we would like to mention in passing that the fact that the Soviet Union delimited in 1956 a ‘controlled fishing zone’ has been confirmed in the speech of Mr. Malik.

“You could wilfully delimit a controlled zone up to 48 degrees north and 170 degrees 25 minutes east as far as 400 nautical miles away from your coast for the purpose of protecting your coastal fishing, whereas you have arbitrarily opposed the demand of the developing countries for a reasonable delimitation of exclusive economic zones in their nearby coastal areas. We would like to ask: What kind of logic is this? It is thus not difficult to understand that in stubbornly opposing the establishment of exclusive economic zones the real purpose of the Soviet Union is simply to maintain its fishing hegemony on the seas.”

Acts of Piracy Cannot Be Denied

Refuting the Soviet representative’s malicious attacks that China was “over-ambitious,” Chuang Yen said: “It is clear for all to see in the present world who are the superpowers, who are lording it over others, who have established huge military bases and stationed troops on the territories of other countries, and who are carrying out intervention, subversion, aggression, intimidation and plunder everywhere! As regards, for instance, the situation on the seas and oceans, it is the warships and nuclear submarines of the superpowers that have been plying the oceans; it is the fishing fleets of the superpowers that have frequently intruded into the coastal areas of other countries for unbridled plunder of their resources. Such acts of piracy cannot be denied.”

Referring to the fact that in his speech the Soviet representative peddled the proposal for the so-called non-use of force in international relations and the permanent prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons, Chuang Yen noted, “Back at the 27th Session of the General Assembly, the Chinese Delegation pointed out that this proposal of the Soviet Government was a sheer hoax designed to cover up its arms drive and war preparation, aggression and expansion and to further strengthen its position of nuclear monopoly. It was only natural for the Chinese Delegation to firmly oppose such a proposal. Is it not easy to see through the intention of the superpower which, running amuck and lording it over others everywhere in the world, has the temerity to preach ‘the gospel of peace’ at the United Nations forum?”

“The speech of the Soviet representative once again shows that the current international struggle with regard to the right over the seas and oceans is in essence a struggle between aggression and anti-aggression, plunder and anti-plunder, hegemony and anti-hegemony. In defence of their national economic interests and state sovereignty, the large number of developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are now getting further united to wage unremitting struggles against the maritime hegemony of the superpowers. This is the trend of our time, which no one can hold back,” he emphasized.

Chuang Yen reaffirmed that the Chinese Government and people will unswervingly adhere to their just principled stand, firmly stand together with the developing countries and all countries that uphold justice, and work jointly for the establishment of a new law of the sea which will meet the needs of the present era.

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