The South China Sea Is the Reason the United States Must Ratify UNCLOS
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, argues that with China rejecting the UNCLOS tribunal's ruling regarding their South China Sea claims, it is time for the U.S. to lead by example and ratify UNCLOS to help preserve the global maritime rule of law.
Unfortunately, China has vociferously stated that it will disregard the tribunal ruling, repeating this posture after the announcement of the ruling. In so doing it has elevated this case to a test for the regional and international community: If China and other states in the region disregard the arbitral ruling — discarding UNCLOS in the process — it will be a grave blow to regional order and the international system.
Today is a day for nations to choose between continuing to build a world of rules, law, and order, or a return to a world of growing volatility and great power politics. I call on my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in stating our commitment to ratifying this critical treaty when the new Congress convenes in January 2017.
Congressional ratification of UNCLOS will help secure U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region, and will reaffirm the principles of freedom of navigation in international waters and airspace in accordance with international law. Few actions could be more important as we contemplate the choppy waters we must now navigate to secure and safeguard U.S. interests and values in the region, and as we support our partners and allies in building a stable, prosperous rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific.
Our failure to ratify the treaty also undermines our ability to fully work with our allies and partners in the South China Sea region. If we are not party to UNCLOS, it is difficult for the United States to rely on the treaty to determine the legal entitlements of mid-ocean features, which claims are lawful, and what exactly constitutes the high seas. It’s also harder for us to suggest it as the basis for resolving claims and arbitrating disputes — or to rely on EEZs drawn under UNCLOS’s auspices. Moreover, a broad set of stakeholders including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, environmental organizations, the military, and industry specific trade groups representing commercial fishing, freight shipping and mineral extraction all support U.S. accession to the treaty. Perhaps most importantly, our military leaders have stated that U.S. participation will help them maintain navigational rights — and with less risk to the men and women they command.
It has been long-standing policy that the United States does not take a position on the ultimate disposition of the competing maritime and territorial claims made by China and other countries in the South China Sea. But we do have a position on how the claims are adjudicated, and on how questions related to the different features — reefs, rocks, shoals and islands — are classified under international law.