United States Senator John McCain has announced his support for the U.S. deployment of a warship to the South China Sea, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has confirmed its jurisdiction in the case between the Philippines and China. With these positions established, international consensus favors a legal resolution to China’s claim of sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
McCain, who is chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, made known his support Tuesday, October 27, 2015, for the U.S. Navy’s Freedom of Navigation operations within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands. Calling the warship deployment “long overdue,” he released the following statement, as reported by The Hill.
“Going forward, Freedom of Navigation operations should not be sporadic spectacles to behold, but ordinary and consistent demonstrations of our nation’s commitment to uphold the freedom of the seas. Demonstrating this unwavering commitment will require regular air and naval patrols in the weeks and months ahead and the robust forward presence in the Pacific required to sustain them.”
Coincidental to John McCain stating his support for freedom of navigation, the Permanent Court of Arbitration awarded its first decision in the “Republic of the Philippines versus The People’s Republic of China” case on Thursday, October 29. The court ruling declared firstly that the case was “properly constituted” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, secondly that China’s “non-appearance” did not preclude the Court’s jurisdiction, and thirdly that the Philippines was within its rights in filing the case.
On a two-day visit to China, German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested the use of international courts to resolve the dispute between the Chinese navy and guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Lassen sent on patrol with Senator John McCain’s support. According to the Guardian, Merkel explained her opinion to the press on October 29.
“The territorial dispute in the South China Sea is a serious conflict. I am always a bit surprised why in this case multinational courts should not be an option for a solution. We wish that the sea trade routes stay free and safe, because they are important for all.”
On Friday, October 30, the European Union agreed with Washington’s decision to dispatch the U.S.S. Lassen to China’s dredged islands. The E.U. stand is seen as risking repercussions from Beijing at next week’s Asia-Europe Meeting (A.S.E.M.) of foreign affairs ministers. According to Reuters, an E.U. foreign affairs spokesman suggested that John McCain’s freedom of navigation enjoys international support.
“Whilst not taking a position on claims, the E.U. is committed to a maritime order based upon the principles of international law, in particular as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea (U.N.C.L.O.S.).”
The John McCain stand would also support the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea issued by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) on November 4, 2002 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Signed by A.S.E.A.N. members and China represented by Wang Yi, Chinese Special Envoy and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, the declaration stipulates the following.
The A.S.E.A.N. signatories commit: 1. to follow the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 2. to explore ways for building trust and confidence, 3. to respect freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea, 4. to resolve territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, 5. to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability. The last commitment includes, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.
Next week’s challenge for A.S.E.M. is to draw together all 28 E.U. countries and 21 Asian nations, including South China Sea contenders China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, in a spirit of cooperation. Notwithstanding the concerns raised by John McCain and the A.S.E.A.N., the E.U. hopes to attract Chinese financial support to boost the bloc’s sagging economy through a bilateral investment and trade deal.
[Photo by Jason Merritt /Getty Images]