East Asian Affairs · Non-Proliferation Affairs

China,Taiwan, and the Spratly Connection

The dispute in the Spratly Islands chain has its roots in the Chinese perception of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas or UNCLOS which concluded in the early 1980’s. In it safe passage is given to any vessel that is navigating waters an agreed upon distance from islands and other land formations. Reefs and submerged land features do not apply to this rule. China, which doesn’t acknowledge section 7 of the treaty that outlines the previously written about rules has established “islands” and other land features built on top of reefs, and other submerged land features. The United States, as well as Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and the philippine’s do not accept these claims as valid. These countries sans the United States also have competing claims to these islands, and reefs, that China has yet to address. One new and worrying development in this dispute is the militarization by China of these reefs, and islands. This constitutes a violation of international law, and has become the subject  of much consternation in concerned capitals. It should come as no surprise then that the United States has been and will continue to, according to Admiral Harry Harris, conduct so called Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) near these newly developed land formations, and militarized zones. In my estimation this is the correct path to go considering that we don’t want to cede any concessions to the Chinese in such a hotly contested, and vital sea lane in the world. So long as China doesn’t respect the rule of law and redraws international borders for its own benefit this obduracy by the Chinese should not go unchecked. Indeed if China is insistent on violating the rights and dignities of other countries then the United States should take it one step further and increase military aid to Taiwan, but also return the bellicose rhetoric with talk of recognizing Taiwan as a free and independent nation from China. It is only when the Chinese realize that their aims are fruitless and that they stand to lose more than they would gain, it is then that I can see the Chinese returning to within their international borders, and observing the rule of law. Spratly_with_flags

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