The recent turmoil created by the competing sovereignty claims of several countries over islands and waters in the South China Sea has caused the resurgence of the concept of “historic rights.” Although the term historic rights (sometimes confusingly used in this context in combination with other germane notions, such as historic waters and historic title) has often been imbued with a certain degree of confusion and controversy in international law, it seems bound to play an important part inthe arguments brought by states claiming sovereignty in this region and, in particular, by the People’s Republic of China (China). The vagueness of the legal terminology used by China raises the issue of whether that very vagueness is being used as an element of political strategy.
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