China’s Maritime Disputes in the East and South China Seas
[ Page 17 ]
Third, American policy makers must realize that the contest for East Asia is one of both power and law. International law supports and legitimizes the exercise of American power. It ensures that the landscape of domestic and international opinion is favorable to american objectives, policies, and actions. International law of the sea in particular, through its assurances of freedom of navigation for security as well as commercial purposes, supports the continued nature of East Asia as a maritime system. International law regarding the free use of international airspace operates similarly. accordingly, to ensure its future position in east asia the United States should take specific actions to defend the international legal architecture pertaining to the maritime and aerial commons. acceding to the United Nations Convention on the law of the sea and once again exercising direct leadership over the development of its rules and norms is the first and most critical step. The Department of State should also reenergize its limits in the seas series to reinforce, publicly and repeatedly, international law related to sea and airspace. a good place to begin the new series would be with a detailed assessment of why international law explicitly rejects China’s “U-shaped line” in the South China Sea as the basis for Chinese jurisdiction there. others could be written to describe why China’s east China sea continental-shelf claim misapplies international law and why China’s ADIZ unlawfully asserts jurisdiction in the airspace. My sense is that East Asian states, indeed many states around the world, are desperate for active american leadership with regard to the norms and laws that govern legitimate international action.
[ Page 7 ]
China pursues its security through interior strategies that involve the development of rings of security around central areas of national interest. The Chinese have long felt vulnerable from the sea, and their current maritime strategy seeks to reduce that vulnerability by extending a ring of maritime control around China’s periphery. China pursues this control through a combination of force-structure development and legal assertions. Tensions arise because China’s strategy conflicts with the territorial claims, resource interests, and security concerns of other states in East Asia. China’s strategy also causes friction with the United states, which relies on freedom of navigation in maritime East Asia for American security interests and which must reassure regional allies and partners that american security guarantees are meaningful. In order to ensure the position of the United States in East Asia, american policies must focus on maintaining the region as an open, maritime system. This requires continuous development of technological advantages to ensure that the center of power in Asia does not migrate from the maritime domain to the continent. It also requires the United states to support the ability of allies, friends, and partners to resist China’s non-militarized coercion, as well as to reinforce the normative structure that supports the efficacy of maritime power in the region and around the globe.