The numerous insular features (islands/rocks) and low-tide elevations (reefs, shoals, etc.) within the South China Sea have long been the centre of attention and dispute involving Brunei, China (the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan)), Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. This contribution focuses on said maritime features from the perspective of the law of the sea. A general overview is provided of the international legal rules that apply to islands, rocks and low-tide elevations with reference to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, customary international law and international adjudications. The article then examines what the littoral states have said and done respecting the insular features in the South China Sea and offers some reflections in the context of the Philippine-China arbitration.
Prior to2009Malaysia had not publicized these baselines. Several authors however have created “inferred” straight baselines based on the known outer limit of Malaysia’s 12-nm territorial sea. See for example MJ Valencia Malaysia and the Law of the Sea: The Foreign Policy Issues the Options and Their Implications (Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia 1991) 26–27.