CCGC Seminar: China’s Interaction with the Law of the Sea: Third World Interests with Chinese Characteristics

Thu, Apr 28, 2016, 5:00 pm
190 Wallace Hall
Restricted to Students, Faculty, Postdocs only

The PRC participated in negotiations and then ratified the Third UN
Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), despite enjoying few of the treaty’s
benefits and disproportionately bearing the treaty’s costs. This process of interaction at a
rule-making forum is difficult to square with conventional accounts of why states commit
to international legal treaties. We expect states – great powers in particular – to prefer
legal rules and norms consistent with their interests (however conceived); at a minimum,
they will not consent to disadvantageous rules unless coerced to do so. Yet without
plausible coercion, the PRC enthusiastically consented to various rules in UNCLOS III
that impose obvious economic, political and strategic costs on China without
corresponding benefits. This costly commitment is especially remarkable with regard to
the rules governing the newly-formed exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which PRC
delegates ardently supported during the Conference. This Chapter (I) introduces the
Conference in the context of world politics in the 1960s and 1970s and summarizes its
disadvantages for the Chinese; (II) canvasses applicable international relations and
international law theories for insights into international treaty-making and settles on a
norms-based account to explain China’s preferences for treaty design and decision to
consent in the case of UNCLOS III. Part (III) analyzes the contributions of the PRC
delegation to the treaty – especially the EEZ – during its long negotiation process (1973-
1982). Chinese positions before, during and after the conference closely matched those of
the many Third World states participating in the negotiations. The PRC shared their
interest in revising the old regime favoring “maritime hegemonists,” and did so by
promoting illiberal doctrine, indeterminate rules, and a core norm of enhanced control for
the coastal state, i.e., closure. Finally, part (IV) moves to extend analysis into China’s
interpretation of international law in general as a means to explain its peculiar
constellation of interests.

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