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Entitlement to Islands, Rocks and Low-Tide Elevations in the South China Sea: Geoeconomics versus Rule of Law

Professorial Lecture delivered by Professor Solomon Salako on 2nd May 2018 and published on 17th August 2018 under the title "Entitlement to Islands,Rocks and Low-Tide Elevations in the South China Sea : Geoeconomics versus Rule of Law", International Law Research,Vol.7,No.1,2018: 247-259, DOI 10.5539/ilr.v7n1p247. Also available at:

The South China Sea, in South East Asia, covers an area of 648,000 square nautical miles. Located in the South China Sea are hundreds of islands, rocks and low-tide elevations. Some of these islands and low-tide elevations are rich in oil and natural gas and are of geostrategic interest not only to the littoral states but also to the United States.

China’s ‘entitlement’ to 80 per cent of the South China Sea, including the largest islands (Paracels and Spratlys), is based on discovery, occupation and historic rights spanning over two thousand years. However, there are other littoral claimants, such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan; and what is more, the United States is implicated in Japan’s claim for historical and other reasons.

Entitlement to islands, rocks and low-tide elevations in the South China Sea is based either on historical claims under customary international law or on maritime claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (UNCLOS). The objects of this lecture are: (i) to evaluate the rule of law and geoeconomics in claims to islands, rocks and low-tide elevations in the South China Sea; (ii) to evaluate the historical and maritime claims of the littoral states, especially the Philippines-China arbitration, with a view to showing that the two claims under international law intersect and collide; (iii) to assess critically the United States’ involvement and the Thucydides trap; and (iv) to articulate the reasons why geoeconomics should guide not only the interpretation of UNCLOS but also state responses in terms of joint development and unilateral strategies.

Useful information

2 May 2018 

12.00-1.30 pm (lunch provided)  

Hope Park
Liverpool Hope University
Taggart Avenue
Hope Park
L16 9JD