PARADIGMS OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA STUDIES IN CHINA
The South China Sea is categorized as semi-enclosed sea under the general definition set down in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the LOS Convention). Article 122 of the convention defines “enclosed or semi-enclosed sea” as “a gulf, basin, or sea surrounded by two or more States and connected to another sea or the ocean by a narrow outlet or consisting entirely or primarily of the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones of two or more coastal States”. The South China Sea suits this definition geographically because it is surrounded by six states — China (including Taiwan), Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. It has an area of 648,000 square nautical miles, twice the area of the Sea of Japan. There are hundreds of small islands in the South China Sea, namely uninhabited islets, shoals, reefs, banks, sands, cays and rocks. According to Workman, they consist mainly of coral reefs. They are widely distributed in the South China Sea in the form of four groups of islands and underwater features, that is, the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Qundao), the Paracel Islands (Xisha Qundao), the Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Qundao), and the Spratly Islands (Nansha Qundao). It is interesting to note that in Chinese these groups of small islands have a big name — “qundao”, or archipelago. Such a nomenclature is questionable in law and/or in geography, particularly for the Macclesfield Bank, which is permanently submerged under water, though it is a common Chinese view to consider the Scarborough Reef as part of the Macclesfield Bank. If such a view could be generally accepted, then the English name should be changed to “the Macclesfield Islands”, like those of the other three groups. However, a detailed discussion on it is beyond the scope of the present topic.
The political situation in the South China Sea is complicated, as it contains potential of conflict arising from different national interests. In terms of the island groups, because of their geographical differences, their political situations are accordingly different from one other. The Pratas Islands are under the firm control of the Taiwan Chinese. No competing claims exist there under the current “one China” concept. For the Macclesfield Bank, the only claimant is China including Taiwan.