United States Must Con­test Chi­nese South China Sea Ac­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION -

The sched­uled meet­ing be­tween China’s Xi Jin­ping and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, at Mara-Lago re­sort in Florida, of­fers a mea­sured op­por­tu­nity to re­di­rect a Washington pol­icy of up­hold­ing in­ter­na­tional law in the con­tested South China Sea. The con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the two lead­ers sets the stage for a US-China frame­work to nav­i­gate a steady course for sta­bil­ity, in­clud­ing: in­sur­ing that Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests re­main un­threat­ened; main­tain­ing free­dom of the seas; tap­ping down fur­ther mil­i­ta­riza­tion out­posts; and safe­guard­ing the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment in the re­gion.

Amer­i­can in­ter­ests are trans­par­ent to pol­icy shapers inside Washington’s belt­way but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is still test­ing the swiftly chang­ing diplo­matic wa­ters. To be clear, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready be­rated China over its trade im­bal­ance, its mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties and its ties to North Korea.

De­spite since last year’s Hague Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing up­hold­ing Philip­pine al­le­ga­tions that China un­law­fully re­stricted ac­cess to fish­er­man in the Scar­bor­ough Shoal and the re­jec­tion of Chi­nese broader ter­ri­to­rial claims within the ‘nine-dash line’ that en­velops most of the South China Sea, Beijing con­tin­ued build­ing run­ways and mil­i­tary out­posts in de­fi­ance of in­ter­na­tional law.

A re­cent re­port from the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies an­a­lyz­ing satel­lite pho­tos con­cluded that run­ways, air­craft hang­ers, radar sites and hard­ened sur­face-to-air missile shel­ters have ei­ther been fin­ished or are near­ing com­ple­tion.

The U.S. has gone record that it does not take an of­fi­cial po­si­tion on South China Sea dis­putes, but has steadily crit­i­cized China’s be­hav­ior there and plans to ex­pand de­fense al­liances with coun­tries that have over­lap­ping claims. Newly con­firmed, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son has said that China’s is­land build­ing in the South China Sea was an il­le­gal seizure of dis­puted ar­eas with­out re­gard for in­ter­na­tional norms and must be stopped.

The South China Sea’s strate­gic im­por­tance is hard to es­ti­mate. The crit­i­cal sea-lanes of­fer pas­sage to more than 45,000 ships –over half the world’s ship­ping ton­nage-sail through the tur­bu­lent sea an­nu­ally. More than 80 per­cent of oil for Ja­pan, South Korea and Tai­wan flows through the re­gion. Cargo ships carry an es­ti­mated $5 tril­lion worth of goods through the wa­ter­way an­nu­ally.

The tri­bunal’s rul­ing stip­u­lated that China was in vi­o­la­tion of the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea. Yet, Beijing has con­tin­ued to dam­age coral reefs with ad­di­tional recla­ma­tions on the seven reefs in the Spratly Is­lands.

While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­nies cli­mate change, it can­not af­ford to turn away from the en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­ages caused by China’s con­tin­ued dredg­ing. The sci­ence is clear. There’s agree­ment among ma­rine sci­en­tists that coral reef de­struc­tion re­sults in long-stand­ing dam­age to the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment. Ad­di­tion­ally, the hu­man se­cu­rity el­e­ment poses a po­ten­tial food se­cu­rity for more than 500 mil­lion peo­ple who de­pend upon ac­cess to an­ces­tral fish­ing grounds for more than 25 per­cent of the daily pro­tein.

“Ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes have led to the es­tab­lish­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tally de­struc­tive, so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally costly mil­i­tary out­posts on many of the is­lands” claims ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist and re­searcher John McManus. He rec­og­nizes that the most im­por­tant re­source in th­ese heav­ily fished wa­ters is the lar­vae of fish and in­ver­te­brates.

With the geopo­lit­i­cal in­tractabil­ity of the re­gion’s sovereignty claims, it may serve Amer­ica’s diplo­macy ef­forts to en­gage China along the shared lines of ASEAN’s recog­ni­tion that the re­gion faces enor­mous chal­lenges to sus­tain­abil­ity in coastal and shared ocean re­gions.

Af­ter all, the claimant South China Sea na­tions are to a large de­gree in­ter­de­pen­dent when it comes to ques­tions of the hu­man en­vi­ron­ment. “They are in­ter­de­pen­dent if they fail to find com­mon so­lu­tions to en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems that may end up in vi­o­lent con­flict against each other. In gen­eral, en­vi­ron­men­tal in­ter­de­pen­dence is both a source of con­flict and a po­ten­tial for in­ter­na­tional in­te­gra­tion,” claims Karin Dokken, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Oslo.

The US and China must both rec­og­nize that with­out agree­ment on th­ese en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems, there’s a bleak fu­ture for the sea. Nearly 80 per­cent of the SCS’s coral reefs have been de­graded and are un­der se­ri­ous threat in places from sed­i­ment, over­fish­ing, de­struc­tive fish­ing prac­tices, pol­lu­tion and cli­mate change.

Fish­er­men find them­selves on the front lines of this new eco­log­i­cal bat­tle since they are sent by their gov­ern­ments to find food for their peo­ple. The mar­itime dis­putes be­tween China and it neigh­bors, es­pe­cially Viet­nam, are be­ing fought by th­ese fish­ing sen­tinels and their trawlers. Th­ese fish­ers are also the first and last to rec­og­nize the im­pli­ca­tions of mis­man­aged en­vi­ron­men­tal and fish­ing poli­cies.

With Pres­i­dent Trump’s new ap­proach of “peace through strength” in mil­i­tary pol­icy, Washington needs to act pur­pose­fully dur­ing this big agenda con­ver­sa­tion. It’s time for the U.S. to dis­play lead­er­ship through con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures, and to red flag China’s ne­far­i­ous ma­rine prac­tices. Amer­ica does not in­tend to back away from its Asia Pa­cific in­ter­ests and treaty agree­ments. Here are select rec­om­men­da­tions:

• De­fend U.S. Navy free­dom of the sea op­er­a­tion, es­pe­cially the rou­tine pa­trol of South China Sea by U.S car­rier groups. Reaf­firm Amer­ica’s de­fense treaty al­liances in the Asia Pa­cific re­gion.

Ter­ri­to­rial is­sues should be re­solved peace­fully, with­out co­er­cion, in­tim­i­da­tion, threats, or the use of force.

All par­ties must up­hold in­ter­na­tional law. Strengthen mar­itime do­main aware­ness with re­gional coast guard co­op­er­a­tion.

U.S. mil­i­tary sur­veil­lance flights in in­ter­na­tional airspace are law­ful un­der in­ter­na­tional law.

Re­spect and pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ships and air­craft as­signed to Car­rier Strike Group (CSG) 11 op­er­ate in for­ma­tion in the South China Sea. The Nimitz Car­rier Strike Group is con­duct­ing op­er­a­tions in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of re­spon­si­bil­ity. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Spe­cial­ist 1st Class David Mer­cil/Re­leased)

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