In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Law of the Sea in China

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks, Periodicals, and Compilation of Treatises
  • Theory and Philosophy of Law of the Sea
  • Territorial Sea, Contiguous Zone, and Strait
  • Maritime Feature and Archipelago
  • Exclusive Economic Zone
  • Continental Shelf
  • High Seas
  • The “Area”
  • Maritime Boundary Delimitation
  • Marine Environment and Biodiversity
  • Maritime Dispute Settlement
  • The Future of the Law of the Sea

International Law Law of the Sea in China
by
Haiwen Zhang, Xidi Chen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0255

Introduction

As most non-European countries, China’s involvement in the regime of international law was not initially based on “free consent.” After the defeat of the Opium War in 1840, the then Chinese government of the Qing Dynasty (1636–1912) had to learn and accept international law in order to negotiate and communicate with Western countries. Since then, Chinese scholars began to translate a large number of international law works, which contain chapters on the law of the sea. For more than a hundred years after 1840, on the one hand, there has been some practice of the law of the sea at the government level that went through three periods, namely the Qing Dynasty, the Kuomintang government, and the Communist government of China. However, on the other hand, academic research on the law of the sea was limited in China due to war and political reasons. Until the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the 1980s and China’s reform and opening-up policy at the same time, the enthusiasm of the Chinese academic community for the study of the law of the sea was aroused. The purpose of this work is to provide a comprehensive picture of “the Law of the Sea in China” by introducing the theory and philosophy of Chinese scholars on the law of the sea, as well as the concerns and positions of particular issues. This work has four main parts. The first part presents textbooks, periodicals, and compilations of treaties related to the subject matter. The second part focuses on the general theory and philosophy of the law of the sea adopted by Chinese scholars. The third part deals with specific areas of the law of the sea, including works in Chinese and English. The final section summarizes the prospects and concerns of Chinese scholars about the future of the law of the sea on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the adoption of UNCLOS. Given China’s large population and the number of law of the sea scholars and works, we limit the discussion to those works that are most representative of the relevant topics and written by the leading Chinese international lawyers in the current generation. It should be noted that the names of all the authors below are in Chinese pinyin (拼音), with the surname first and the given name second.

Textbooks, Periodicals, and Compilation of Treatises

A large number of textbooks are written in Chinese, and most of them were published after the negotiation of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Therefore, adopting the structure of UNCLOS with adaptations became the main way to organize the textbook chapters, such as Liu, et al. 1986, Wei 1987, Chen 2009, and Jiang 2018. Some textbooks including Zhou 1987 and Gao 2022 are very informative about the official position and state practice of China. As the law of the sea has been gradually regarded as an important branch of international law studies in China, a number of Chinese and English journals like China Oceans Law Review and Journal of Boundary and Ocean Studies specially focusing on the law of the sea began to appear. The China Ocean Development Report presents ocean-related information and progress on an annual basis. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has done a good job of sorting out and publishing the compilation of treaties related to China’s maritime affairs.

  • Chen, Degong 陈德恭. Recent International Law of the Sea (现代国际海洋法). Beijing: China Ocean Press, 2009.

    Degong Chen’s book provides a detailed account of the development of the various regimes in the law of the sea, in particular the impact of UNCLOS III and UNCLOS. Chen had participated in UNCLOS III as a member of the Chinese delegation, which makes his writing reflect well the course of the negotiations.

  • CIMA. China’s Ocean Development Report (2023) 中国海洋发展报告 (2023). Beijing: China Ocean Press, 2023.

    Issued annually by CIMA, Ministry of Natural Resources. This book includes information on important theoretical and practical developments in the law of the sea related to China.

  • China Oceans Law Review (中华海洋法学评论).

    It is a bilingual international academic journal focusing on the law of the sea. This journal is jointly run by the South China Sea Institute of Xiamen University, the Institute of Maritime Law of Dalian Maritime University, the Tung Ho Wan Center for International Maritime Studies of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the Law School of the University of Macau, and the Institute of Political Science of Taiwan Normal University.

  • Gao, Jianjun 高健军. International Law of the Sea (国际海洋法). Beijing: Law Press, 2022.

    The book made a comprehensive introduction to the basic rules and regulations of the law of the sea, characterized by a focus on the interpretation of concepts and the development of practice. The textbook fully reflects the developments since the adoption of the UNCLOS, including the practice of states and international organizations, as well as the international judiciary.

  • Jiang, Huangchi (Chiang, Huang-chih) 姜皇池. International Law of the Sea (国际海洋法). Taipei: New Sharing, 2018.

    Jiang Huangchi is a well-known scholar of the law of the sea in China, and this textbook is his representative work. It provides a comprehensive introduction to the law of the sea regime in the context of the development of the rules, and provides rather detailed information for beginners as well as senior researchers in this field.

  • Journal of Boundary and Ocean Studies (边界与海洋研究).

    Journal of Boundary and Ocean Studies was launched in May 2016, sponsored by Wuhan University, and is the only interdisciplinary academic journal focusing on boundary and ocean issues in China.

  • Liu, Nanlai 刘楠来, Zhou Ziya 周子亚, Yu Yuancheng 虞源澄, Ni Xuan 倪轩, Yang Zhixiong 杨志雄, and Chen Zhenguo 陈振国. International Law of the Sea (国际海洋法). Beijing: China Ocean Press, 1986.

    One of the earliest textbooks on the law of the sea published in China. The book basically follows the framework of UNCLOS and focuses on theory and philosophy in the law of the sea, which distinguishes it from the work of Chen Degong.

  • Treaty Database of the PRC.

    The database contains all of the treaties ratified by China that deal with maritime affairs.

  • Wei, Min 魏敏, ed. The Law of the Sea (国际海洋法). Beijing: Law Press, 1987.

    Wei is a professor of international law at Peking University. Wei was the editor of this book, which is the most famous law of the sea textbook of the 1980s, and it is organized in accordance with the structure of the UNCLOS.

  • Zhang, Haiwen 张海文, Jia Yu 贾宇, Wu Jilu 吴继陆, Li Mingjie 李明杰, and Qiu Jun 邱君, eds. Illustrations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (《联合国海洋法公约》图解). Beijing: Law Press, 2010.

    In order to provide competent officials and scholars without a professional background in the law of the sea and general readers with the basic knowledge of UNCLOS, this is the only book to illustrate the complex legal regimes under the UNCLOS in a pictorial way, with a large number of illustrations. The author was the Deputy Director and later Director-General of the China Institute for Marine Affairs (CIMA, the former State Oceanic Administration), Ministry of Natural Resources.

  • Zhou, Zhonghai (周忠海). International Law of the Sea (国际海洋法). Beijing: China University of Political Science and Law Press, 1987.

    This textbook adopts a positivist perspective, which may owe much to the author’s experience. Zhonghai Zhou, before his prestigious career as a professor, was a legal advisor to the Chinese delegation at the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), and he also served in the Chinese Ministry of Justice.

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