Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former Defense Department official Dan Blumenthal have written an interesting and timely op-ed about China and the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST).
In “Time to Kill the Law of the Sea Treaty—Again,” the authors describe the duplicitous double game that China plays in the South China Sea by manipulating the provisions of LOST.
China—which is a member of LOST—is interpreting the treaty’s provision on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in a manner that prohibits lawful military surveillance activities conducted by the U.S. Navy; at the same time, the Chinese navy engages in military activities within the EEZ of its neighbors in the South China Sea.
In 2009, Chinese vessels harassed civilian, unarmed U.S. Navy surveillance ships in the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea. Both the USNS Impeccable and the USNS Victorious had been patrolling the area in international waters when Chinese naval vessels and “fishing boats” threatened to collide with them and attempted to damage their towed sonar arrays.
Ambassador Bolton’s article describes the futility of believing that U.S. membership in LOST would somehow fix everything with China and the South China Sea. What is certain is that U.S. membership in the treaty is not necessary to secure the Navy’s navigational rights and freedoms. What is necessary, as Bolton concludes, is “properly funding and equipping the Navy and exercising it in China’s exclusive zones, including especially on intelligence missions, based on long-established state practice.”
To the credit of the Obama Administration, in response to the harassment of the Impeccable, it sent in the Aegis destroyer USS Chung-Hoon to escort the surveillance ship during its next mission, proving that when push comes to shove on the high seas, the most effective response is demonstrating our nation’s military capabilities.
Tensions will continue to rise in the South China Sea as China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other concerned nations vie to divide up the potentially massive oil and gas resources located there. It would appear that even the Obama Administration has discovered that a show of force—and not membership in a treaty that China does not respect—is the surest way of protecting U.S. navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea and around the world.