Friday, February 24, 2017

Size Doesn't Matter

You certainly can't miss something like a carrier sailing near you, and it certainly sends a signal of power and interest. But is it a freedom of navigation operation?

The Carl Vinson carrier strike group entered the South China Sea to conduct operations:

A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is patrolling in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said Saturday, days after Beijing told Washington not to challenge its sovereignty in the region.

China asserts ownership of almost all of the resource-rich waters despite rival claims from several Southeast Asian countries. It has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group was engaging in "routine operations in the South China Sea," the navy said in a statement on its website.

You can't miss something that big. But the issue is what the battle group is doing while there.

It is good that the group carried out "routine operations." That makes it a true FONOP, if I am interpreting that statement correctly to include operations uniquely routine to warships. That defies Chinese assertions that the South China Sea as a whole is Chinese territorial water.

But have any of the ships of the group carried out routine operations within 12 nautical miles of Chinese artificial islands to demonstrate that their construction on these mere features do not convert them into islands with claims on surrounding waters?

And yes, while China's aggression is understandable in some sense from their point of view, that doesn't mean that we or the victims of that urge to expand for purposes of defense have to accept that desire.

UPDATE: More on recent American military deployments in the Pacific. But don't be fooled by this:

On Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry acknowledged the USS Vinson's patrol.

"China always respects the freedom of navigation and overflight of all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang.

"But we oppose those who threaten and harm the sovereignty and security of coastal countries under the pretext of freedom of navigation and overflight."

China's version of international law runs counter to traditional international law that was incorporated into the Law of the Sea treaty (LOST) that China signed.

In China's version, the exclusive economic zone of LOST gives China sovereignty and not just natural resource rights in those waters, which allows China to forbid any type of military or intelligence activities  under Chinese interpretations that are contrary to the law on international waters as practiced.