Chinese Aggression Shows the Law of the Sea Treaty is Worthless

March 4, 2013
CHRIS CARTER March 4, 2013 Supporters of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) would have us believe that the treaty makes the world a safer place. For 30 years, media, political, and even military elite have all called for ratification of UNCLOS. But why should the U.S. ratify a treaty that, considering Chinese ongoing territorial aggression against its neighbors, we can see is useless when it comes to maintaining “peace, justice and progress for all peoples of the world,” as the charter states? Chinese naval vessels recently violated UN law by using their fire control radar to target a Japanese naval destroyer and military helicopters operating near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in February. The rocky, uninhabited islands belonged to the Japanese until after World War II, when the United States assumed temporary control. The islands returned to Japanese administration in 1972, but the Chinese didn’t voice their claim to the islands until a potentially significant oil field was discovered in the region later that decade. For months, Chinese and Filipino vessels have maintained a delicate standoff over the Scarborough Shoals (Huangyan Island to China). Although 500 miles from the nearest Chinese port, Chinese fishing vessels flaunt the law by harvesting their catch within the UNCLOS-established exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, just 124 miles from their coast. In 1947, the Chinese government claimed virtually all of the South China Sea in what has become known as the “Nine-Dash Line.” China, a member nation of UNCLOS, refuses to explain the details on how they reached their far-fetching boundary. A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks states that a senior Chinese government maritime law expert admittedly did not know of any historical basis behind the “Nine-Dash Line.” China knows that if they open the door to international scrutiny, their extravagant claim and ambiguous evidence would not survive and any illusions of a legitimacy would vanish. And so would the massive deposits of oil and natural gas surrounding these desolate islands the Chinese want exclusive access to. The Philippines even offered to settle the matter of Scarborough Shoal in a UNCLOS tribunal, but the Chinese have stated they will not participate in any of the treaty’s dispute resolution mechanisms – or abide by any UNCLOS ruling. The Chinese claim to seek bilateral talks because they know that the Philippines will refuse, and the issue will remain unsettled. The Chinese interest is to keep things exactly as they are. Prior to becoming Secretary of State, John Kerry was one of the strongest supporters of ratifying UNCLOS as a member of the Senate. Confronted with Chinese warmongering however, Secretary Kerry can only spout meaningless platitudes about “forging stronger and deeper relations” with the Philippines. Not altogether inspiring, considering we have mutual defense pacts with both Japan and the Philippines that go back over 60 years. Perhaps President Obama doesn’t plan on honoring our agreements, but we are obligated to treat an attack on either nation as if it were an attack on the United States. Kerry’s empty words and the Obama administration’s make-belief world of political narratives may resonate in an Ivy League faculty lounge or with a sycophantic media, but China lives in the real world, where words only mean as much as your ability to back them up. China can be aggressive because they know that the UN is only out to get paid, President Obama’s “soft power” is big on soft and short on power, and no other nation is capable of doing anything about it. Demographically and economically speaking, the future belongs to China. They are building aircraft carriers and air supremacy fighter jets while we are grounding and decommissioning ours. The Chinese are expanding their nuclear arsenal while we are unilaterally dismantling our aging weapons. Our economy is going the way of Greece, and the Chinese are financing the demise. Diplomacy will only weaken the Chinese position, and their political and military leaders are telling their people to prepare for war. No one wants to go to war with the Chinese, but diplomacy tends to work better when one side has significant leverage over the other, both parties can find common ground, or if both parties at least wish to avoid war. Feeble treaties will not stand in their way. If we could magically cast out corruption from the UN, a Law of the Sea treaty would be a great idea. Internationally agreed-upon laws would rule the oceans and seas, while courts – not fleets – would solve disputes. And the world wouldn’t depend solely on the United States to solve their problems with our blood and treasure. But any treaty that permits a member to lay claim to an entire sea shared by several nations, and does nothing while a member openly violates provisions of the treaty is absurd. Considering the inability to check Chinese aggression, the trillions of dollars in fees that will be paid by U.S. taxpayers to the UN, and giving control over much of our resources to an unaccountable international organization, the United States is far better off without UNCLOS. Chris Carter is the director of the Victory Institute and the deputy regional director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. His work also appears at The US Report, International Analyst Network, Human Events, Canada Free Press, Deutsche Welle,, Blackfive and other publications. He also served on the 2010 National Medal of Honor Convention project. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and a firefighter by trade. Read more: Family Security Matters