China and ‘might makes right’ at sea


THE main theme of Mr Mark Valencia’s commentary published in The Straits Times last Saturday is that if the United States Navy exercises rights of navigation and overflight in the waters surrounding the reefs on which China is constructing artificial islands through reclamation, the US will be engaging in “gunboat diplomacy”.

He also argues that a more “peaceful and civil option” would be for the US to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and use its dispute settlement mechanisms to resolve the legal issues relating to navigation and overflight, as this approach would be preferable to the “might makes right” principle and the precedent it sets.

Mr Valencia fails to mention that in January 2013, before China started its massive reclamation works on the reefs, the Philippines instituted a case against China under the Unclos dispute settlement mechanism. The Philippines requested that the Unclos Arbitral Tribunal rule on the legal status of the reefs occupied by China, as well as on the rights and jurisdiction of China in the waters surrounding them.

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