Rocks that are visible at high tide generate a territorial sea while low-tide elevations
fully submerged in high water offer, at most, a 500-meter safety zone.
Where a low-tide elevation
is wholly situated at a distance exceeding the breadth of the territorial sea from the mainland or an island, it has no territorial sea of its own.
So even if you have expanded the area in terms of land reclamation, the fact that before land reclamation there's a low-tide elevation
and therefore, a low-tide elevation
does not generate maritime entitlement in terms of territorial sea or exclusive economic zone, it will remain as is," UNCLOS said.
Second, that none of the Spratly features are islands entitled to a 200 nautical mile (nm) exclusive economic zone (EEZ); they are either rocks, entitled only to a 12 nm territorial sea, or low-tide elevations
with no associated maritime zones.
It also argued that features used by China as basis to generate its claims "are either rocks or low-tide elevations
, which at best can only generate up to 12 nautical miles of maritime entitlements," according to Manila's filings with the tribunal.
A key component of China's strategy in the South China Sea is the dredging of low-tide elevations
to make small islands, including in areas that, as China's deputy foreign minister for Asian affairs, Liu Zhenmin, recently acknowledged, "are far from the Chinese mainland.
The Palace official said Professor Philippe Sands argued that Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, Subi Reef, Mckennan Reef and Gaven Reef are all low-tide elevations
under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and as such, are not entitled to its own territorial sea, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf.
With regard to low-tide elevations
(LTEs), that is, features that are submerged at high-tide but uncovered at low-tide, the Tribunal noted that, in keeping with Article 13(2), an LTE generates no territorial sea of its own except where it falls wholly or partially within the breadth of a territorial sea generated by an above high-tide feature or the mainland.
The panel meanwhile ruled that Zamora (Subi) Reef, Hughes Reef (no local name indicated), Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, and the Recto (Reed) Bank were 'submerged at high tide in their natural condition,' hence low-tide elevations
that do not generate any maritime entitlement.