CHINA - Pushed at a security forum to clarify China's nine-dash line claiming almost the whole of the South China Sea, a senior Chinese military official would only say how it came about but avoided spelling out the extent of the claim.
Some observers suggested that this ambiguity on China's part is deliberate as it wants to keep its options open about its eventual claims.
Lieutenant-General Wang Guanzhong, who led the People's Liberation Army (PLA) delegation to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue this year, was peppered with several questions on the nine-dash line when he took to the podium yesterday.
Some wanted to know what the line meant exactly, while others questioned its validity.
The Philippines went to the international tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands in March, asking the court to invalidate the line.
China has refused to participate in the case, saying the dispute was excluded from arbitration because of a declaration it made when it ratified the United Nations Law of the Sea (Unclos) in 2006.
In his answer, Lt-Gen Wang recounted how China discovered and began imposing administration and management over islands in the South China Sea, including the disputed Paracels and Spratlys, from as early as the Han dynasty (206BC to 220AD).
When Japan invaded China during World War II, it also occupied the islands, which were recovered by China in 1946 in accordance with the Cairo Declaration and Potsdam Proclamation. In 1948, the Chinese government drew and declared the nine-dash line. He added that China's sovereignty over the islands predated Unclos, which came into being only in 1994, and that the law has no retrospective effect.