The eighth meeting of the Malaysia-Singapore Joint Technical Committee (MSJTC) on the Implementation of the International Court of Justice Judgment on Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge was held 21 January 2020 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The outcomes of the meeting include:
“The Meeting further agreed for the Sub-Committee on Maritime Boundary Delimitation of Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks and South Ledge to commence negotiations.”
For further information see the Joint Press Statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Singapore and Malaysia respectively.
The MSJTC is a cooperative process established to implement the 2008 ICJ Judgment (Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore)). See further the discontinued Request for Interpretation of the Judgment of 23 May 2008 in the case concerning Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge (Malaysia/Singapore) (Malaysia v. Singapore).
On the 30 December 2019 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia formally protested against Chinese vessels allegedly involved in IUU fishing activities in Indonesia’s EEZ (referred to by Indonesia as the ‘North Natuna Sea’), as well as the presence of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel. Indonesia’s response included summoning the Chinese Ambassador to Jakarta and submitting a diplomatic memorandum of protest.
The Indonesian position repeated its rejection of the Chinese ‘nine-dash line’, reiterated China’s obligations to comply with both UNCLOS (as a state party) and the South China Sea Arbitration Award (UNCLOS, Annex VII, Article 11; South China Sea Arbitration Award, Paragraph 1200) and reiterated Indonesia’s position that Indonesia does not have any overlapping jurisdiction with China in the South China Sea. On 1 January 2020 a subsequent statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia rejected the claims by China to historic maritime waters as without legal basis, as well as any Chinese references to ‘relevant waters’ as unrecognized in UNCLOS. “Indonesia Urges the People’s Republic of China to explain the legal basis and clear boundaries regarding the claims of the PRC in [the South China Sea] based on UNCLOS 1982” (Paragraph 3 [in Indonesian]).
In November 2015 a Chinese spokesperson stated “[t]he Chinese side has no objection to Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna islands”. To date, in response to the December 2019 incident a Chinese spokesperson (31 December 2019; 2 January 2020) has repeated its general position on the South China Sea without further detail.
The Parliament of Morocco (Commission des Affaires étrangères, de la défense nationale, des affaires islamiques et des Marocains résidant à l’étranger à la Chambre des représentants) has approved (16 December 2019) two bills (projets de loi) concerning the delimitation of maritime zones. The projet de loi n° 37.17 alters the previous legislation on the territorial waters, updating existing baselines with more recently surveyed data; the projet de loi n° 38.17 alters previous legislation concerning the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. Both bills were first presented in 2017 and they apply to the waters adjacent to the Southern Provinces of Morocco, located within a Non-Self Governing Territory listed under Chapter XI of the Charter of the United Nations as “Western Sahara“.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco has stated that these initiatives “do not mean the unavailability of Morocco for a solution to any possible conflict with its neighbours Spain and Mauritania”. This statement is available here (in French). In response, the Government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic published a statement saying that the “unilateral Moroccan act to claim Western Sahara maritime zones is null and void”. This statement is available here.
In accordance with Article 76(8) of UNCLOS Malaysia has on 12 December 2019 made a partial submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) regarding its continental shelf in the northern part of the South China Sea. According to Malaysia (Ex Summary, paras. 1.2-1.4), this partial submission concerns the remaining portion of the Malaysian continental shelf in the South China Sea not covered by the 2009 Joint Submission by Malaysia and Viet Nam ‘in the southern part of the South China Sea’.
Figure 1.1 The Outer Limits of the Continental Shelf in the South China Sea (Ex Summary, p. 4).
China has submitted a Communication dated 12 December 2019 which requests the CLCS to not consider the Malaysian Submission due to the existence of a land or maritime dispute (Article 5(a) of Annex I of the Rules of Procedure of the CLCS). Malaysia rejects the existence of any dispute (Ex Summary, para. 4.1).
For more information see here, Executive Summary, Note dated 12 December 2019 from the Permanent Mission of Malaysia and the Communication dated 12 December 2019 (China).
Turkey and Libya have signed (27 November 2019) a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the delimitation of the maritime jurisdiction areas in the Mediterranean.
The MFA of Greece considered (28 November 2019) that “the signing by Turkey and Libya of a memorandum of understanding cannot violate the sovereign rights of third countries” and that “such an action would be a flagrant violation of the International Law of the Sea and would produce no legal effect”. The Minister also noted that “between the two countries there is the large geographical mass of Crete”.
In response, the MFA of Turkey stated (1 December 2019) that “islands cannot have a cut-off effect on the coastal projection of Turkey” and that “the islands which lie on the wrong side of the median line between two mainlands cannot create maritime jurisdiction areas beyond their territorial waters and that the length and direction of the coasts should be taken into account in delineating maritime jurisdiction areas”.
Turkey had submitted earlier in the month (13 November 2019) to the UN a list of geographical coordinates, concerning the outer limits of Turkey’s continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, where Turkey exercises ipso facto and ab initio exclusive sovereign rights and jurisdiction stemming from international law (A/74/550).
Turkey has not signed the UNCLOS and has opposed the new international legal regime of islands during UNCLOS III in two occasions (160th meeting and 189th meeting).
The President of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction has released an advanced version of the revised text, entitled, Revised draft text of an agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, 27 November 2019. This was requested at the closing of the third session and aims “to enable delegations to take stock and to facilitate further progress in the negotiations at the fourth session of the Conference”. The fourth session will take place in 2020.
For the revised draft text see here. An outline of changes made to the first draft text is available here.
As previously reported, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in its Order of 25 May 2019 of Case No. 26, Case concerning the detention of three Ukrainian naval vessels (Ukraine v. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures, prescribed:
“The Russian Federation shall immediately release the Ukrainian naval vessels Berdyansk, Nikopol and Yani Kapu, and return them to the custody of Ukraine” (para. 124(1)(a)).
On 18 November 2019 the Ukrainian naval vessels “Nikopol”, “Berdyansk” and “Yani Kapu” were returned by Russia to Ukrainian custody.
For further information see the press releases published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Russia respectively. The Russian press release makes no reference to the ITLOS Order of 25 May 2019. Russia’s previous submission of an initial report to ITLOS (prescribed in Order of 25 May 2019, para. 124(2)), reaffirmed “the stance of the Russian Federation that the procedures for settling arguments under the UN Convention of the Sea are not applicable in this case”.