Take bold measures to revamp Unclos

There has been a flurry of commentaries by political and legal pundits on the dispute between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea.

The dissenting views on the interpretation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) have caused animosity and confrontation, with no compromise or solution in sight.

If the objective of international law is to bring peace and order to the world, and safeguard the interests of its people, regardless of nationality, then Unclos has delivered quite the opposite.

Its main flaw is the setting up of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the once-open sea.

Land is the habitat for humans. Territorial rights for any human society can be established only on land. Human societies have no right over spaces that exclude human settlements, such as the open sea.

While the sea should remain open, it is reasonable to set a boundary for the entitlement to natural resources under the seabed extending from the coast.

Coastal countries with overlapping EEZs should work out an equitable distribution of revenues from such resources, based on the percentage of areas overlapped.

No nation is entitled to ownership of the open sea. However, it may be desirable to grant China administrative rights, not amounting to sovereignty, to provide facilities such as lighthouses, shelters and docks to service all vessels in the area requiring such services.

For the sake of peace and stability in our world, some bold and innovative ideas, including renegotiating the terms of Unclos, should be explored to resolve the current impasse.

Robert Tang Hin Ching

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Take bold measures to revamp Unclos'. Print Edition | Subscribe