Drawing Lines on the Map
As Countries grew and spread to cover all the available land in the world, the matter of drawing lines on the map to carve up sovereignty became one of the great matters of dispute. These were not merely the setting of borders between extant States; although plenty of troubles came from setting borders, and many such troubles continue to this day. One needs only to look at the resulting problems that the world inherited from the Kongokonferenz (the Berlin Conference of 1884~85) and the resulting Colonial campaigning commonly known as the “Scramble for Africa” to see a fine example of how much trouble. The day of New Imperialism is well behind us now, at least on land, and most all of the borders of the world are at least closely enough drawn as to be defined disputes rather than issues of whole-cloth creation of demarcation lines. None the less, some lessons should be remembered from those days as there are matters more current that require some attention.
Here is a different example from the past and one closer to home for most of the readers here: Does anyone remember reading about “54-40 or Fight”? That was the public cry (on the American side) during the dispute and negotiations over the borderline between the United States of America and then-colonial-British-Canada, specifically the Western section crossing the Rocky Mountains and running to the Pacific Ocean. This was the Oregon Border Dispute, although the area in question is greatly to the north of what is Oregon State now. The southern extreme of the British claim was at the 42nd parallel, while the northern extreme of the American claim was at 54 degrees, 40 minutes parallel, in total contesting the entire mainland area of what are now Oregon, Washington State, Idaho, and British Columbia. The Polk administration in 1844, while campaigning on expansionist claims, offered the previously discussed 49th parallel line as a compromise, which was accepted with the terms “to the Pacific Ocean” so as to maintain British sovereignty (already established) on Vancouver Island. Other than a little skirmishing over islands in the Puget Sound, the matter was decided. This made for a nice, straight line on the map, and one extremely silly enclave.
That is correct; one silly enclave. In the rigorous delineation of the border, with the surveyors intent on a straight line all across the mainland border, what resulted was Point Roberts. This lovely little peninsula sticks out from the now-Canadian mainland just a little bit south of the 49th parallel line. *Here* is a map reference.
For in the final resolution of the border, the language of the treaty defining the line to be absolute on the mainland was found to trump the other language in the treaty about the line being drawn to the Pacific Ocean. One definition was found to be more applicable than the other. Remember that concept for later matters, discussed below.
Moving on to more recent and much more complex delineation, let us spend a moment on the dismemberment of Imperial Japanese territory by the Allied Powers at the end of World War II, specifically in the south. The occupation of Japan placed Formosa (Taiwan) under the Republic of China (as then recognized; Nationalist China) but placed the entirety of the Ryuukyuu (Okinawa) Archipelago under United States occupation. Ryuukyuu had been absorbed by Imperial Japan in its earliest days (1872, formalized in 1879) after over 250 years as a tributary kingdom to the Japanese Satsuma clan and simultaneous tribute to the Qing Dynasty of China. (The island of Formosa had been won much later, in the settlement of the Sino-Japanese War of 1895) So while Formosa was placed under Chinese authority as Taiwan in compliance with the required abandonment of territory seized in war by Imperial Japan, the U.S. demanded and received trusteeship over the Ryuukyuu Archipelago in its entirety, right up to the coastal waters of Taiwan. When the Chinese Civil War resumed and the Chinese Communists won the fight on the mainland and the Nationalist government fled to Taiwan, it probably seemed like a grand idea that the Archipelago was one big unsinkable aircraft carrier for the U.S. of A. Even the little tiny flyspecks of islands in the Senkaku group (called the Diaoyutai Islands in Mandarin; or misidentified as Pinnacle Islands on English-language maps), and neither Chinese governments made claim to them at the time. *Here* is a map reference.
But come the 1970’s, all matters political in the area had changed. For one, the United States had reached an agreement to return the Ryuukyuu trusteeship to Japan, as of 1972. At that point (1971), both the Nationalists on Taiwan and the Communists on the mainland protested and hauled out claims of varying merit (mostly weak) to the Senkaku Islands. The United States simply handed them over to Japan with the rest of the trustee territory when the time came, and washed its hands of the matter. A bunch of small islands, a little coastal fishing in territorial waters, no big deal…
It was no big deal, for about a decade. Then along came the negotiations for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), finished in December of 1982 and ratified in 1994. Both Japan and China (which is considered unitary for purposes of International Law) have signed and ratified the treaty. What that brings to the table is the idea of Exclusive Economic Zones that extend out into the ocean from sovereign territories, beyond the territorial limit, as far as 200 nautical miles from the baseline shore with exceptions extended for contiguous Continental Shelf areas as far as 350 nautical miles from baseline. Within an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the sovereign Nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources. That can mean a lot of fish. With the development of technology for undersea drilling, it can also mean a lot of oil and gas, and one day other technologies will add to the value of most every EEZ.
So what happens when two Nations share an ocean area that would be defined as part of (someone’s) EEZ? The simple case is that if the 200 mile limits barely intrude into each other, a midway line is drawn. In more complex cases (the EEZ drawn from the southernmost parts of the Republic of Korea and the nearby western main islands of Japan overlap by ~50%), some part of the center-most of the overlap may well be *by bilateral negotiation* made a joint development area, with shared rights and profits. But in either case, note that the matter of contest is one based on the basic 200 mile limit.
Well, it seems that the entire middle of the undersea of the East China Sea is a nest of natural gas fields, with some light petroleum in there as well. Useful stuff, that; so who gets the rights to develop those fields? Take a look here at this graphic and the problem becomes apparent. The widest point of the East China Sea is less than 400 nautical miles across, and the Ryuukyuu Archipelago defines the southeast boundary of the sea with the Senkaku Islands sticking well to the north of the island chain. To make matters worse, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government has reached into the UNCLOS for ideas that suit their goals and have issued a claim based on the contiguous Continental Shelf (which is there) to the maximum 350 mile limit.
Submarines have skulked about, warships and patrol craft have sallied, and survey ships have been interfered with. The PRC has even issued production grants to allow several petroleum-development platforms (drill rigs and production rigs) to go in and set them up *just barely* on the China-side of the middle line. Japan knew just how to respond to such provocations and claims: send in the diplomats.
Astoundingly, almost too-good-to-be-true, Japanese diplomats claimed success in negotiations last June. Well, no, they didn’t resolve the Senkaku Islands dispute nor did they draw a demarcation line, but they did come back with an in-principle joint-development agreement, sort of. Gee, that was great work; sent out with orders to negotiate a fair split, they came back with a split alright… of Japan’s half.
To add insult to injury, the PRC is now claiming that there was no progress on delineation of any kind back in the June agreement, and that they reject Japan’s claims of PRC production platforms being sited to extract gas from the Japan side of the middle line. They imply it is all China's gas anyway, or should be.
This is all in the run-up to the announcement of this week’s bilateral meeting on the matter.
Time to bring that Point Roberts lesson, above, back into view. The nature of terms in delineation treaties remains the same as it was back in the time of the Oregon Border Dispute; that some terms take precedence even if they are uncomfortable, unless specifically negotiated away. In that case, the “mainland” was part of the basic terms of the agreement; “to the Pacific Ocean” was a limited term expressly to exempt Vancouver Island from the treaty line. That meant that once the line crossed the last bit of mainland, *then* the line had to find a way through the islands and straits to the Pacific Ocean, and that was a secondary issue.
The 200 nautical mile limit is the basic EEZ.
When two 200 mile EEZ’s overlap, draw a middle line unless a joint claim straddling *both sides of the middle line* is negotiated.
The 350 nautical mile Continental Shelf exception is *not* part of the basis. That is what is allowed beyond an uncontested basic EEZ. It is a secondary issue.
Any PRC claims to the contrary are crude attempts at gamesmanship.
Draw the middle line, then let both countries line up production platforms facing each other and may the best pumps win. Or draw a joint zone that straddles the middle line.
As to the claims by the PRC to the Senkaku Islands and what affect that would have on the EEZ…
…the Chinese claim would look a whole lot better if they had bothered to file them back in 1945...
…like Japan has done regarding Russian occupation in the Northern Territories all along.
Most notes are embedded as links in the text.
Additional information on International Disputes of all kinds can be found at the CIA World Factbook; Disputes
The following Wiki-p items are for General Information only. As always, check all sources:
List of contemporary Territorial Disputes
General Information on the Senkaku Islands
General Information on EEZ’s as defined by UNCLOS
Historical Information on the Kongokonferenz (1884)
Historical Information on the Oregon Boundary Dispute (1844)