The current understanding of “historic rights” in the South China Sea in China can be traced back to a U.S. diplomat.

It was Thompson and Dzurek who persuaded the Chinese that they could make a legal case to exploit oil fields hundreds of miles away from China, off the southern coast of Vietnam. According to Thompson, “I used him [Dzurek] to help get validity to our concept this is Chinese waters and he strongly espoused many positions that this is Chinese waters, not Vietnamese waters based upon sovereignty of claim and historic stuff.” Dzurek, however, plays down his role. In an email he told me that he, “never gave China any ‘boundary advice’,” but “merely helped negotiate an offshore lease.” However in a key academic paper published after the Crestone episode, he noted that the Chinese term for the “U-shaped line” might best be translated as “traditional sea boundary line.”[4] He seems to have accepted – and developed – the idea that China had “historic rights” in the area beyond those spelled out in UNCLOS.


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