In the Libya/Malta case, the ICJ held that where the area to be delimited between two opposite States measures less than 400 nautical miles, distance, not natural prolongation determines title to the continental shelf. This was the Court’s interpretation of the definition of the continental shelf in Article 76(1) of the Law of the Sea Convention and of the relationship between the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone. In the East China Sea which measures less than 400 nautical miles, China relies on natural prolongation while Japan relies on the distance principle. This paper analyses the Libya/Malta decision to ascertain its correctness or otherwise, and its usefulness for resolving the East China Sea dispute. The central argument in this paper is that the decision is inapplicable to the East China Sea dispute because it is incompatible with Articles 76(1), 77(3) and 56(3) of the Law of the Sea Convention.

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