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At 4th Session of U.N. Sea Law Conference

Developing Countries Combat Maritime Hegemony

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, Vol. 19, #21, May 21, 1976, pp. 21 & 23.]

THE Third U.N. Law of the Sea Conference held its fourth session in New York from March 15 to May 7. A follow-up of the Geneva session last year, it was attended by 5,000 representatives from 150 countries and regions as well as many international organizations.

During the session, many small and medium-sized countries demanded that a new law of the sea to protect the sovereignty and national economic interests of all countries be formulated, and they launched struggles against the two superpowers when the Informal Single Negotiation Text was discussed clause by clause. The superpower flaunting the signboard of “socialism,” bent on defending its vested interest in maritime domination, dropped its mask as a “natural ally” of the developing countries. More truculent and greedy than the other superpower, the Soviet Union once more revealed its true social-imperialist nature before the world’s people, playing the role of a teacher by negative example.

Clinging to the old law of the sea, the two superpowers in recent years have obstructed by hook or by crook the birth of a new one. During the session, the United States still insisted that the exclusive economic zone be part of the high seas. The Soviet Union on its part opposed more flagrantly the nucleus of the new law of the sea, namely, the exclusive nature of the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. Chiming in with the United States, it insolently demanded that the word “exclusive” be deleted from all the clauses in the negotiating text which stipulates that coastal countries have exclusive jurisdiction over their exclusive economic zones. In other words, the Soviet Union wanted to continue to do what it likes in the exclusive economic zones of coastal countries, thus depriving them of the substance of their jurisdiction over these zones.

When the clause on the system of innocent passage through territorial waters came up for discussion, the Soviet Union, singing the same tune as the other superpower, asked for “free navigation” in the territorial waters of other countries. The purpose was to have its warships plying freely their territorial seas without having to inform them or get their approval beforehand.

Ignoring the inviolable sovereignty of strait countries, the Soviet Union truculently demanded “the right of free transit passage” for all vessels in order that its warships can go prowling in all the big oceans to intimidate other countries in its rivalry for hegemony with the other superpower.

The Soviet delegation was adamant on its unreasonable demand that in fixing the catch allowance within the exclusive economic zones, the coastal states should heed the “suggestions” of the International Fishing Organization and those foreign countries that used to fish in these zones. It also insisted that foreign fishing vessels should be allowed to catch the “rest of the stock” left over by the coastal states.

The same social-imperialist power vainly attempted to repudiate the principle laid down by the U.N. General Assembly at its 1970 session that international seabed resources are the common legacy of mankind, and asserted that international seabed belongs to “contracting countries,” denying the right of the peoples still fighting for national independence and liberation to share the legacy.

In collusion with the other superpower, the Soviet Union doggedly objected to the effective control of international seabed by an international administering body. Its representative went so far as to tell the meeting that in Russian vocabulary there is hardly an exact equivalent of the word “control.”

Voicing the same opinion as the other superpower, the Soviet Union vigorously advocated the “freedom of scientific research in the oceans,” insisting that approval by the coastal country is not needed if the research is alleged to be unrelated to maritime resources. The aim is to arrogate to itself the freedom to carry out illegitimate activities in the coastal waters within the jurisdiction of some developing countries.

On the question of preventing maritime pollution, it joined the other superpower in trying to limit the right of the coastal countries, and one-sidedly emphasized the administering right of a flag country. What these two superpowers wanted is to be left free to pollute marine environment.

In the debate on the peaceful use of maritime space, the Soviet representative repeated the shopworn theme on “peace” and “disarmament” to cover up the fererish Soviet naval buildup in fierce contention with the other superpower.

The position of the Soviet representative at the meeting was strongly opposed by representatives of many small and medium-sized countries.

To thwart the machination of the superpowers to emasculate the substantial content of the exclusive economic zone, the representative of Peru proposed that the new law of the sea lay down that foreign vessels passing through exclusive economic zones must not resort to use or threat of force against the sovereignty, security and political independence of coastal countries. The representative of Romania proposed that an explicit stipulation prohibiting military activities be added to the clause on the peaceful use of seabed. Many strait countries maintained that foreign warships before passing through the straits within their territorial waters must notify them or obtain their permission in advance.

The representative of Yugoslavia stated that the so-called “freedom of scientific research” in the high seas as proposed by the Soviet representative was unacceptable; it was merely a new term coined by himself. The representative of Ghana also sternly denounced the Soviet maritime hegemony.

Refuted down to the last point, the Soviet representative could say nothing in his own support. He complained that he had scarcely seen such an international conference which indulged in political debate instead of discussing legal stipulations. Representatives of the developing nations said well when they pointed out that making the law of the sea was no technical matter but a political struggle in the first place. Fundamentally speaking, they noted, the problem of the law of the sea is one of safeguarding the sovereignty, security and national resources of the numerous small and medium-sized countries, a problem of combating the marine hegemonism of the superpowers. This is a serious political struggle. In trying to prevent the conference from discussing political matters, this superpower, they declared, was out to prevent the small and medium-sized countries from exposing its hegemonic deeds—aggression, plunder, intimidation and bullying. This scheme will never succeed. Propelled by the united efforts of the many small and medium-sized countries against hegemonism, a new law of the sea will certainly come into being in the course of struggle.

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