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Vietnam’s rights and obligations as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982

On December 10th 1982, in Jamaica, Vietnam and 106 other countries signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (hereafter the UNCLOS 1982), marking the success of the 3rd UN Conference on the Law of the Sea with the participation of 150 countries and many international organizations. On June 23rd 1994, the National Assembly of Vietnam ratified this Convention, which demonstrated the country’s resolve to cooperate with the international community in building an equal legal order and facilitating the development and cooperation at sea.

The UNCLOS 1982 has become effective since November 16th 1994. It has been seen as the world’s sea and ocean Constitution and a huge multilateral legal document (including 320 articles, 9 annexes, and over 1,000 legal norms), meeting the world’s aspirations for a new international legal order related to all issues on seas and oceans, including the seabed and seabed subsoil. The document serves as an international legal basis for Vietnam to affirm its legitimate rights to the country’s inland waters and territorial as well as its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the country’s contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. The document also provides an important legal basis for Vietnam to affirm its sovereignty over the two archipelagoes of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. More specifically, since the signing of the UNCLOS 1982, Vietnam has been acknowledged to possess 12-nautical-mile territorial waters, 200-nautical-mile EEZ, and continental shelf which is at least 200 nautical miles and could be expanded to 350 nautical miles from the baseline; the total area of the waters and continental shelf in which Vietnam is allowed to enjoy its rights is about 1 million kilometres square, three times as large as its mainland area.

Since it signed the UNCLOS 1982, Vietnam has always respected, exercised and sufficiently fulfilled its rights and duties. It has the right to define its seas and continental shelf under the UNCLOS 1982, but it has duty to demarcate the waters and continental shelf which overlap those of its neighbours. It should be noted that after the UNCLOS 1982 had become effective, Vietnam managed to demarcate the maritime boundary with Thailand in 1997, to delimit the territorial waters, EEZ, and continental shelf within the Tonkin Gulf with China in 2000, and to draw the continental shelf boundary with Indonesia in 2003. Moreover, Vietnam agreed to co-exploit the overlapping continental shelf with Malaysia in 1992 and the historical waters with Cambodia in 1982.

Under the UNCLOS 1982, Vietnam has been developing its maritime economy within its EEZ and 200-nautical-mile continental shelf. At the same time, it has proactively cooperated with relevant parties in protecting the environment, conducting search and rescue operations, preventing and controlling natural disasters, and adopting measures against maritime crime, thereby contributing to meeting the UNCLOS 1982’s regulations and maintaining maritime security. Vietnam has also been active in international frameworks under the UNCLOS 1982 and signed many agreements under the ASEAN’s framework for cooperation on maritime transport and transport services.

Those results have illustrated Vietnam’s determination to respect, exercise, and fulfill all rights and duties under the UNCLOS 1982, which has made contributions to ensuring the country’s legitimate rights and benefits and settling disputes in the East Sea by peaceful means under the international law.

Pham Binh

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