The significance of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for the protection of Vietnamese rights and interests in the East Sea (Part 1)

UNCLOS has allowed Vietnam to extend its power and interests to the sea and is an effective legal tool for Vietnam to struggle for and protect its sovereignty.
Hội nghị lần thứ 33 các Quốc gia thành viên Công ước Liên hợp quốc về Luật Biển năm 1982
The 33rd Conference of States Parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea takes place from June 12-16, 2023 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA. (Source: Vietnam's Permanent Delegation to the UN)

Constitution of the Seas and Oceans

In 2024, the world will celebrate the 30th year of the implementation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Convention is appreciated as one of the most important achievements of international law and of the United Nations in the 20th century and it continues to assert its role as the "Constitution of the Seas and Oceans" in the 21st century and further. The Convention provides for the most comprehensive legal regime of maritime zones on the balance of the expansion of sovereignty rights and jurisdiction of the coastal state with the conservation of the freedoms of the sea in the exclusive economic zones and continental shelves and the common interests of the international community in the High Seas and the Area – known as the common heritage of mankind.

The Convention provides the potential new legal order at sea for all activities in the oceans and seas, such as marine scientific research or the management and conservation of marine resources, and protection of the marine environment in a synchronized and effective manner based on an integrated and ecosystem-based approach. The Convention establishes a new effective mechanism for the settlement of maritime disputes based on the equitable principle, agreements and the mechanism for compulsory procedure for dispute settlement through conciliation and arbitration.

The Convention ensures the development of new legal instruments in its framework such as The Agreement on the implementation of Part XI of the Convention (1994 Agreement), the Convention on the Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (UNSFA-1995), and Agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction 2023 (BBNJ).

An effective legal tool

UNCLOS has allowed Vietnam to extend its power and interests to the sea, contributing to the creation of a " Vietnam Sea " with an area of nearly 1 million km2 next to a " Vietnam Land ", with a coastline length of more than 3200 km facing the sea. Vietnam was the first country in Southeast Asia to declare a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and a continental shelf on May 12th, 1977 and ratified UNCLOS on June 23, 1994, before it came into effect.

Vietnam ratified the Agreement on the Implementation of Part XI of the UNCLOS on 27/4/2006 and became the 90th country to ratify the Convention on the Management of Transboundary Fish Stocks and Distant-distance Migratory Fish Stocks on 18/12/2018. Vietnam was a participant in the negotiations and signed the BBNJ as soon as it opens on June 19, 2023.

The 1982 UNCLOS Convention is an effective legal tool for Vietnam to struggle for and protect its sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction at sea. Vietnam is a country that has the highest rate of peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in the East Sea. It has creatively applied the equitable principle in the delineation of the Exclusive Economic Zones and Continental Shelves with Thailand in 1997, and in the Gulf of Tonkin with China in 2000, the delimitation of the continental shelves with Indonesia in 2003; the delineation of Exclusive Economic Zones with Indonesia in 2022, the joint development with Malaysia in 1995, joint development and fishing cooperation with China in the Tonkin Gulf in 2004-2020, and Cambodia in 1982.

Tàu cá của ngư dân huyện Gio Linh, tỉnh Quảng Trị vào bờ sau chuyến đánh bắt trên biển. (Nguồn:TTXVN)
Fishing boats of fishermen in Gio Linh district, Quang Tri province, Vietnam. (Source:VNA)

Currently, it is conducting negotiations on the maritime delimitation for the area outside the mouth of the Tonkin Gulf. Vietnam was the first country to complete two submissions on the outer limit of the continental shelves in the East Sea, submitted before the deadline of 13/5/2009 to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

Vietnam expressed its support to the conclusion of the Arbitral Tribunal established under Annex VII to the UNCLOS in the Philippines' case against China in the South China Sea in 2013-2016 and demonstrated its willingness to take all peaceful measures to resolve maritime disputes in the East Sea with neighboring countries. The letters and spirit of the Convention are also clearly demonstrated in the formulation and implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and in the ongoing negotiation of the Code of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (COC).

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