Thursday, May 10, 2012

Add a Buck and You Can Get a Cup of Coffee

So our military says we need the law of the sea to operate off of China's coast despite China's claim to own all of the South China Sea?

It affirms the sovereign immunity of our warships and other public vessels, and it gives us the framework to counter excessive claims by states seeking to illegally restrict movement of vessels and aircraft. Now, these are all rights and capabilities that we want and that we need. In fact, they are of our own making. We negotiated them into the convention to advance our national security interests.

Of course, we could always rely on the same approach we used 200 years ago. At that time, we commissioned the Navy's first ships to safeguard our seaborne merchants against the Barbary pirates. But the force of arms does not have to be and should not be our only national security instrument. The convention provides an additional way to navigate an increasingly complex international security environment. ...

By not acceding to the convention, we give up the strongest legal footing for our actions. We potentially undercut our credibility in a number of Asia-focused multilateral venues, just as we're pushing for a rules-based order in the region and the peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes. We're doing that in the South China Sea and elsewhere. How can we argue -- how can we argue that other nations must abide by international rules when we haven't officially accepted those rules ourselves?

What rot. So the treaty--and force of arms as we used against the Barbary pirates--will advance our national security interests in maintaining freedom of the sea?

China, the briefing notes, signed the treaty.

So explain to me how signing a treaty will make China more cooperative on the subject of the treaty?

China is insisting that international agreements do not apply in its dispute with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal. Chinese warships entering the Filipino exclusive economic zone (anything within 380 kilometers of land) are violating a 2002 agreement by nations bordering the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal is 200 kilometers from the Philippines, and 850 kilometers from China. After signing the 2002 agreement China changed its mind three years ago and is now claiming ownership of the entire South China Sea.

Huh. Treaty. China signs it. China decides treaty it signs doesn't really apply.

But wait! There's more!

A Chinese news anchor accidentally described the Philippines as part of China. This was on a news show on one of the largest (and state controlled) networks. Many Filipinos believe this was no accident, and point out that the Chinese government has considerable control over their media and often plants rumors or organizes demonstrations or other "spontaneous" outbursts in support of government policies. Many Filipinos see this "accident" as a test of popular support for seeking to make the Philippines part of China. This resonates with many of China's neighbors, many of whom have border disputes with China and fear being claimed out of existence.

Once again, I say "huh."

I've forgotten what I knew about the law of the sea. Back in the day, I opposed it as restricting our freedom of navigation at sea. Perhaps those concerns are no longer valid. Perhaps just changing times make it in our interest. I'm willing to hear the arguments for and against.

But if the argument is that we need to sign the treaty in order to get China's cooperation in settling competing claims in the South China Sea--a region that China has declared a core interest on par with Taiwan and Tibet--don't bother wasting my time. China not only doesn't want to abide by a treaty with the Philippines over disputed islands, China floated the idea that the Philippines might not be fully recognized despite that UN seat they have. (Note to Taiwan: formal recognition is no salvation if you don't have the weapons to back up your claims to self rule.)

Also, China defends their aggressive actions against our planes and ships collecting intelligence in and over the South China Sea as consistent with the treaty's provision even though we deny that China must approve our presence. How does our signature affect China's interpretation of the treaty even if they decide to abide by it?

China's signature on a treaty and a buck will get us a cup of coffee. And whether or not a treaty will make China more cooperative, having a strong military able to back up our claims is necessary to keep China reasonably cooperative.

UPDATE: Here's the first buck:

The first of a new class of U.S. coastal warships will be sent to Singapore next spring for a roughly 10-month deployment, the Navy said on Wednesday, spotlighting a move that may stir China's fears of U.S. involvement in South China Sea disputes.

Deployment of the shallow-draft ship "Freedom" will help refine crew rotations, logistics and maintenance processes to maximize the class's value to U.S. combat commanders, Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden, the Navy's director of surface warfare, told reporters.

These littoral combat ships patrolling where we say they can go will have more effect on keeping the peace than any treaty purporting to set the rules of the sea around China.

UPDATE: And South Korea already enjoys the thrills of a strong legal footing for peacefully resolving maritime territorial disputes:

Off the west coast, South Korean coast guardsmen boarded a Chinese fishing boat suspected of operating illegally in South Korean waters. Four of the Chinese attacked the boarding party, and nine Chinese ended up under arrest for assault and illegal fishing. China claims that South Korean territorial waters do not extend as far as international law says. China is getting more aggressive on this point. South Korea refuses to give in to the pressure. China has been bullying Korea like this for over a thousand years.

And let's not even get started on Chinese support for the horrible regime in Pyongyang that seeks nuclear weapons even as its people resort to cannibalism:

Researchers in South Korea have found at least three recent examples of people being publicly executed in North Korea because of cannibalism. This was common during the widespread famine of the 1990s. It is feared that many more cases of cannibalism are not being caught (the victims just disappear, are eaten and remains never found), or many were caught and secretly tried and executed.

Trying to ensnare China in binding international rules will fail in the face of China's 1,000-year tradition of doing what they want to neighbors. Only we are ensnared by international agreements.