China's assertive naval rise will change the nature of the customary international law of the sea
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Regardless of the pace of change, the critical factor in creating and changing international custom will continue to be the relative power of relevant actors.93 The creation of international law is a political process and those with the political, economic, and military power to bend the international legal environment to their own objectives are generally successful in doing so. As relative power changes among international actors, changes to established legal paradigms should be expected.
The implications for the law of the sea are obvious. China’s willingness to challenge traditional legal constructs and ability to influence states with similar interests cannot be dismissed, especially if a dramatic event accelerates the change. One need not agree with China’s arguments or be certain of their ultimate success to acknowledge China’s potential as an advocate for coastal state interests. Whether these interests will reshape the law of the sea remains to be seen. However, to assume that customary law will remain static and that the traditional maritime powers will continue to dictate its future seems retrospective.94