Monday, June 01, 2015

What Should Be the Final Word on Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea

...But Won't Be

Attendees at the Shangri La confab would like you to believe it’s about protecting Freedom of Navigation (hereinafter FoN) in the South Chinese Sea (hereinafter SCS) from the Perfidious Red Chinese (hereinafter PRC).


I debunked the FoN canard pre-conference at Asia Times.  The only nation with an existential interest in FoN in the SCS is the PRC.  In case you missed it, here’s the link:

And a couple more data points.

One is courtesy of an Australian wonk, Sam Bateman:

Bonnie Glaser has recently claimed that approximately 60 per cent of Australia’s seaborne trade passes through the South China Sea…

When measured by value, the figure of 60% of our seaborne trade passing through the South China Sea is way off the mark. Based on the latest data for Australia’s overseas trade, it mightn’t even be half that—and about three-quarters of it would be trade to and from China. Thus the notion of a threat to our seaborne trade from China is rather a non-sequitur.

And there’s this, via Corey Wallace’s Twitter feed:

Abe: CSD [Collective Self Defense; which, according to the interpretation of the Japanese cabinet, permits Japan “Self Defense” forces to participate in US operations far from home if they are crucial to Japanese national security—ed] will not allow minesweeping ops in SCS/Malacca Strait as unlike Hormuz there are alternative routes.

Emphasis added.

The PRC could mine the entire SCS, heck the PRC could pave the SCS & Japan could ship everything via the Lompok & Sunda Straits & up through the Philippine archipelago…like it does already with its Australian iron ore imports.

So, when you hear pundits, scribes, and pols docilely regurgitating the SCS FoN myth, feel free to pound your head against your desk in despair.  That’s what I do.


Derry KS McDonell said...

Respectfully, but this analysis is off. My understanding is that U.S. Navy Freedom of Navigation operations are about protecting FON as a global principle. Whether a particular country has a greater stake in FON for a given body of water, as you describe here about the SCS, is (from the U.S. Gov't perspective) immaterial to upholding the broader global principle of FON on in international waters and airspace. To quote the U.S. State Dept web site:

"...U.S. policy since 1983 provides that the United States will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention. The United States will not, however, acquiesce in unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight and other related high seas uses...stressing the need for and obligation of all States to adhere to the customary international law rules and practices reflected in the LOS Convention."

Also, the Japan example (the Abe quote on mining) is a non-sequitor with respect to the U.S. position on FON, as it relates solely to the particulars of the Japanese Constitution. You've conflated Japan's Collective Self Defence debate with U.S. FON policy. These are not the same issue.

Grateful if you could address these concerns in your comments.

China Hand said...

thanks v/much. I'm going to address the issue of upholding military FoN as a matter of US national policy in a subsequent post. But the US intervention in the SCS--& its risks and potential costs--have been justified since 2010 in terms of the vital economic & security character of the SCS SLOC to the US and its allies. This is BS.

Ayumi said...

Great analysis. The way I see it, the clash between the US and China over the SCS is basically about China's desire to take control of the vital sea lane on which its economic livelihood depends and the US's intention to ensure that its foot remains firmly on China's jugular.

It's also worth noting that contrary to all the hysterical accusations, China has actually not violated any international law. The same can't be said for the US as it reportedly flew a military spy craft directly over a feature that is administered by China.

Derry KS McDonell said...

I'm fairly certain that the importance of the sea lanes is not the only concern the US has expressed, but even if it were, that is a different tack than the "FON is a canard" argument. Indeed, when you consider that the SCS is the only body of water that Vietnam borders (and Brunei), it is false to argue that only China is dependent on it for trade. What's more, if we are to speak of alternative routes, China too could divert shipping via Lombok and the straits between Taiwan and the Philippines. So the SCS is not in fact China's "jugular" according to this rationale.

denk said...

*.U.S. policy since 1983 provides that the United States will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis*

then came the mining of nicaragua harbor in 1984,
to cripple its shipping traffic !

Derry KS McDonell said...

Again, interesting, but not relevant. According to the US, its FON policy and the Law of the Sea it stems from pertain to traffic in international waters, not internal waters such as a harbour.

denk said...

interesting, us fon policy excludes harbors, so that us could mine a target country's harbor with impunity.
but the icj obvious disagreed, us guilty as charge for committing state terrorism.

Xinxi said...

After US has already forced the German government to give up on Russian market, Washington is now threatening a second major source of income for German companies. There would probably be a popular uprising in Berlin if German media weren't staunchly pro-Washington.

denk said...

Derry KS McDonell
* Again, interesting, but not relevant. According to the US, its FON policy and the Law of the Sea it stems from pertain to traffic in international waters, not internal waters such as a harbour. *

so us fon and the los applies only to INTERNATION WATERS is that what u say ?

even more interesting,
emboldened by its immunity from mining the nicaragua harbor, the usn waylaid a chinese freighter yinhe on international water, forced it to dock at a saudi harbor for *inspection of illegal chemicals*.
the search turned out naught but us offered no apology and no compensation, *we reserve the RIGHT to conduct such op whenever we deem necessary*
is this the usn or some high sea pirates ?

denk said...

*is this the usn or some high sea pirates ?*

sorry i repeat myself !

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