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(Opinion) Protecting Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea

2015-05-29 08:41:58       source:The Diplomat

By Douglas Gates

May 28, 2015

"American foreign policy is at its best when it builds up international norms and structures that deter aggression and maintain stability for everyone over the long term. In that vein, the United States, like Great Britain before it, has demonstrated an unshakeable commitment to the free navigation of the seas by warships and commercial vessels alike in order to facilitate international trade. This effort has fostered, in part, the greatest period of global economic development in history and has perhaps benefited China more than any other state. However, China now seems intent on upsetting that order for its own parochial gains by aggressively consolidating its territorial claims in the South China Sea, in violation of international law and to the dismay of its neighbors. In its response to this campaign, it is critical that the United States maintain its commitment to international law and encourage the Chinese Communist Party to abide by the long-standing rules of the system for the benefit of the entire region.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently floated a proposal to challenge Chinese territorial claims using American warships and aircraft under the broad umbrella of the Navy's Freedom of Navigation program. The U.S. Navy has been conducting maneuvers in East Asia and around the world for decades, capitalizing on its command of the sea to challenge the excessive claims of allies and rivals alike by driving through a contested area and treating it as international waters. These missions demonstrate a deep commitment on America's part to the foundational principles of maritime law expressed in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It has done so despite the fact that the U.S. has yet to ratify the 1982 treaty because of domestic opposition in the Senate, a point of contention for the countries on the receiving end of those challenges and a point of embarrassment for the American officials charged with carrying them out."

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