Revision of U.S. ability to peacefully resolve South China Sea disputes compromised by its non-party status to UNCLOS from Sun, 07/20/2014 - 00:31
As a signatory to UNCLOS, the PRC occasionally implies that its interpretations should trump those of the United States, which has yet to ratify the convention that Washing- ton nevertheless employs as a bludgeon against Beijing’s claims that UNCLOS permits limitations by coastal states on foreign military activities in the EEZ. The message is that even though the United States asserts its compliance with UNCLOS, because it has not undertaken to be formally bound by the convention it has no standing to impose its self- regarding interpretations of the regime on those states that have ratified it.
Further, the United States needs to accede to UNCLOS to exert credible influence over the competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. Although the United States has not taken a position on the competing claims in the region, it has urged the parties to follow UNCLOS.239 Admiral Locklear comments that by becoming a party of UNCLOS, "we place ourselves in a much stronger position to demand adherence by others to the rules contained in the Convention."240 Without being a party of UNCLOS, the United States's recommendations to China carry little weight.
The United States should be very concerned about this situation. There are conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, such as the Spratley Islands. Should the Philippines and China end up in an armed conflict over these islands, the Philippines will look to the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty, and the United States could likely be pulled into war it does not want or need. The United States needs to accede to the treaty to empower her to influence the situation as it now exists.
Additionally, the United States needs to accede to UNCLOS because of the importance of the South China Sea trade routes. China believes that UNCLOS gives it the right to demand notification when foreign countries enter its EEZ.241 The United States does not believe that it has to notify China when the U.S. military enters Chinese waters. These U.S. reconnaissance missions in the South China Sea are crucial to its military security procedures, if for no other reason than the volume of U.S. trade passing through the area. This disagreement has arisen out of differing readings of UNCLOS. Until the United States accedes to UNCLOS, it has no doctrinal authority to argue with China, because the United States has not agreed to be bound by UNCLOS. As a signatory, the United States would have the ability to take up this issue with the committee to determine what authority each country has to regulate foreign military in its EEZ.