Monday, 30 June 2008

Law of the Sea

Chinese Government launched a media blitz to defend the deal with Japan over oil and gas fields on the East China Sea. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi repeated the Government's position that China's sovereign rights and legal position were not compromised. A vice-president of China National Offshore Oil Corp gave a lecture on the differences between the co-operative development in the Chunxiao field and the joint development in the designated block. He suggested that Japanese companies participating in the cooperative development should pay tax to China, to which a Japanese official replied that Japanese investors would have to pay Chinese tax in theory, but any details would have to be sorted out by the parties.

Hong Kong
Law of Treaties

In the wake of the controversies over the appointment of five undersecretaries with foreign citizenship to the Hong Kong Government (who all renounced their foreign passports subsequently), the British Consulate was asked whether the appointments breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and replied in the negative. Section IV of Annex 1 to the Joint Declaration provides, "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government may employ British and other foreign nationals previously serving in the public service in Hong Kong, and may recruit British and other foreign nationals holding permanent identity cards of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to serve as public servants at all levels, except as heads of major government departments (corresponding to branches or departments at Secretary level) including the police department, and as deputy heads of some of those departments." But regardless of the treaty language, if both parties to the Joint Declaration accept the appointments as in compliance with the treaty, would it become impossible to argue that the appointments violated the Joint Declaration?

Territory -- Diaoyu Islands
Law of the Sea
State Responsibility

After a Japanese coastguard patrol ship hit and sank a Taiwanese fishing boat off the disputed Diaoyu Islands, mainland China and Taiwan wen on a relay to show toughness to Japan. Beijing started off with a FM spokesman expressing "strong dissatisfaction" and urging Japan to "stop illegal activities around the Diaoyu Islands to prevent such things from happening again". Taiwan was then forced to take it over and ratchet it up, with President Ma Ying-jeou issuing a "stern protest" and demanding immediate release of the Taiwanese captain, Premier Liu Chao-shiuan refusing to rule out war with Japan "as the last resort", and Taiwan recalling its envoy to Japan. While Japan softened its position and apologised for the incident, Beijing re-entered the fray and re-iterated her "great concern". In the end, Japan delivered a formal apology and promised full compensation.

Law of the Sea

Amid growing anxieties in China over the wisdom of the joint development deal with Japan on the East China Sea gas fields, the Chinese Foreign Ministry took the unusual step of dispatching Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei to a press briefing, insisting that China's jurisdiction and sovereign rights in the East China Sea are not compromised and that China continues to refuse to recognise Japan's median line approach for the delimitation of the seas. However, the tough rhetoric does not add up with the fact that the "block for joint development" as designated in the Principled Consensus is reportedly about evenly divided by the Japan-advocated median line, and it seems hard to argue with a Japanese official who said, "The median line surfaced as a de facto boundary of the EEZ. This has significant implications."

Law of the Sea

Under pressure to resolve the dispute "as soon as possible", China entered into a "principled consensus" with Japan on the joint exploration and development of disputed oil and gas fields in the East China Sea. The agreement designates a 2,700 sq km "block for joint development" for joint exploration and development and "welcome[s]" Japanese companies to participate in the development of the Chunxiao (Shirakaba) oil and gas field in accordance with Chinese law. It is merely an interim agreement "in the transitional period prior to delimitation", and is without prejudice to the legal positions of the parties. Despite its interim nature and the continuing legal differences, the agreement may indeed represent a step towards injecting some practical senses to the emotionally charged Sino-Japanese relationship. After all, if oil and gas in the disputed seas amount to no more than 93 million barrels of oil (or three weeks of Japan’s energy needs), what is the point of wasting all the resources and energies (pun intended) on a relatively insignificant piece of commodity?