We are poised to begin a freedom of navigation mission in the South China Sea to respond to China's claim of sovereignty 12 nautical miles around the island and an economic exclusion zone 200 miles out:
U.S. plans to send warships or military aircraft within 12 nautical miles of China's artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, possibly within days, could open a tense new front in Sino-U.S. rivalry. ...
Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, 12-nautical mile limits cannot be set around man-made islands built on previously submerged reefs.
Four of the seven reefs China has reclaimed over the last two years were completely submerged at high tide before construction began, legal scholars say.
China claims most of the South China Sea. Other claimants are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
A recent article, and others in the past (and even our own Navy, to my eternal disappointment), have claimed that if only we joined the Law of the Sea, we could get China to obey the law from the inside.
Which is nonsense. Note that of the other claimants, 4 of 5 are inside the treaty. How much success have they had from the inside getting China to obey the treaty?
Taiwan is not a member state of the UN and formally is considered part of China. That's really inside, even though they can't sign.
Face it, the only enforcement mechanism to get China to obey the law consists of grey hulls demonstrating that international law does not recognize China's expansive claims to control the South China Sea as territorial waters (indeed, as a city):
The Navy has defended our freedom of the seas for close to two and a half centuries without LOST. The Navy should keep doing that and not argue for some farcical aquatic ceremony to wield supreme navigational power.
It would be easier to argue that the Law of the Sea gives China incentive to make their claims to control that international body of water and now to build islands to assert that control.
Whatever we send needs to have heavy backup and we need the capability of using non-lethal force to resist the Chinese.
If we don't back international law, small powers close to China will recognize the law of China as holding sway and will begin to adjust their policies accordingly, our pivot to the Pacific notwithstanding,