Sunday, September 23, 2018

Ultimately Irrelevant

The Philippines is of course free to make whatever kind of deal they want in the South China Sea. But the world needs to remind China that possession of even more islands does not grant China ownership of the South China Sea outside of legally recognized territorial waters.

This is hardly widely accepted in the Philippines, but the government is obviously free to cut deals with China:

The government is negotiating a treaty that will allow China to share, with the Philippines oil and natural gas revenue from portions of the South China Sea where China claims control of areas that are Filipino according to current international agreements. This deal is unpopular with a lot of Filipinos as well as with neighboring countries also being pressured by China. Malaysian leaders warn that Chinese offers of massive investments come with too many strings and have proved to be more about enriching China and not the country receiving these investments. Any agreement with China on who gets what in Filipino parts of the South China Sea will have to be approved by the Filipino legislature and that is where the Chinese will probably encounter the most opposition.

As I've long said, America's position on the South China Sea is pretty basic:

I've written before that while we have no real stake in who controls small islands off the coast of Asia, we have an interest in making sure the issue isn't settled by force against our allies. And we have an interest in whoever controls them accepting traditional rules of the sea in keeping the nearby waters international waters where we can sail freely. China compels us to oppose them more than we'd need to by insisting that these waters are Chinese waters where they can deny us the ability to sail our warships.

Whether the Philippines or China controls an island doesn't affect the fact that the South China Sea is basically international waters.

I'm not happy that the Philippines would give up territory to China--and Malaysia believes the move is foolish--because the Filipinos have the right to do so, even if under Chinese pressure. That's life. If the Philippines believes that is the best course to take, they can do it.

But we still don't have to accept Chinese claims to control the South China Sea no matter how many islands they take, buy, or build in the region.