The State Department of the United States this week released a report examining China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. The study concluded that the claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The report says China’s maritime claims fall under four categories:
• Sovereignty claims over more than 100 features in the South China Sea that are submerged below the sea surface at high tide;
• Straight baselines that enclose the four “island groups”;
• Maritime zones, specifically internal waters, a territorial sea, an exclusive economic zone, and a continental shelf that are based on treating each claimed South China Sea island group “as a whole”; and
• Historic rights
China’s claims under each of these categories undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally recognized provisions of international law, the US State Department said.
Just as important as the general conclusion of the State Department is its significant mention of the Philippines’ victory over China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The tribunal’s 2016 decision is unanimous, final and binding.
Unfortunately, the current administration has consistently refused to assert this legal and moral victory. Except for sporadic pronouncements whenever the public clamor gets too loud, our executive leadership chooses to defer to the political and geographic might of our giant neighbor. A common rhetorical strategy is to reduce the issue to a binary scenario – go to war with powerful China, or not do anything at all. The emphasis has been that we are certain to lose in the event of war.
But we know too that there are many other options we can take to protect our territory against China’s incursions. We don’t need to go to war, but we can capitalize on being on the right side of the law. We have the support of the international community, we have the decision of the PCA, and we are aware that China’s aggressive, sometimes stealthy moves are not something that transpires between friends who respect each other.
It is thus our hope that the next president of our land would be enough of a leader to assert what is ours and stand up to China’s bullying. As the elections draw near, let us demand that our candidates lay down and expound on what they plan to do about this issue. Let us not let them get away easily with prepared speeches or motherhood statements—or jokes about jetskiing to the Spratly Islands to plant our flag. We need them to understand, and appreciate, just how high the stakes are here, and just how important the issue of sovereignty is to us as a nation.