US hypocritically abuses principles of UNCLOS to benefit itself

By Shen Yamei Source:Global Times Published: 2014-4-29 21:43:01

The high-profile interventions by the US in the disputes between China and some of its neighbors over some islands or reefs and maritime entitlements in recent years, have seen the US frequent making use of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It seems that according to the US, China has become a violator of UNCLOS.    

The fact is that the disputes between China and some of its neighbors over some islands or reefs fall within the scope of territorial disputes, which are not subject to UNCLOS' regulation and adjustment.

Moreover, China, as a state party to UNCLOS, made a declaration in 2006, which excluded disputes on maritime delimitation and historic title or rights from the compulsory dispute settlement procedures, in accordance with relevant UNCLOS provisions concerning optional exceptions.

The US, which keeps on emphasizing the rule of international law, should be well aware of this background. However, the US has repeatedly distorted UNCLOS to negate China's lawful maritime claims and rights. Anyone with common sense can understand what the US acts mean.  

While the US behaves like a state party to UNCLOS and argumentatively invokes UNCLOS to criticize China, it forgets that it has not ratified UNCLOS itself. As the world's top sea power and significant coastal state, the US, under the excuse that UNCLOS has become part of the customary international law, has enjoyed all the rights given by UNCLOS while choosing to evade the related duties at the same time. This clearly demonstrates the selective and utilitarian attitude of the US toward UNCLOS.  

The US misuse of UNCLOS is also well reflected in its self-granted impunity concerning its maritime military maneuvers. The US possesses ultra-strong naval power and the capacity to control all the world's strategically important maritime locations, and its freedom of navigation and maritime entitlements have never been threatened.

With the development of modern naval weaponry particularly the enhancement of the electronic telecommunication and reconnaissance capabilities, the US has for a long time expanded its maritime and aerial reconnaissance and deterrence activities into other countries' exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and the airspace above them, causing disquietude among many developing coastal states, and making the utilization of EEZs for military purposes a highly controversial issue globally.

Washington has made a series of US-style interpretations on UNCLOS' EEZ regime, such as confusing the EEZ with the high seas in its excessive expansion of its naval ships' rights to free movement, misinterpreting the provisions concerning the peaceful use of oceans for an improper assertion that all non-invasive military activities are lawful, arguing that its military ships' close-reconnaissance of other countries' EEZs are hydrological surveys or intelligence collection, and so on.

The self-granted impunity mentioned above fully reveals the unscrupulous US playing with and trampling on UNCLOS.       

And from the perspective of timing, when the US started to put into practice its "pivot to Asia" strategy, it simultaneously began to make an issue of UNCLOS under the circumstances of its not-yet accession into it, and to hype up the East China Sea and South China Sea issues, so as to pave the way for its military "rebalance." 

Rather than adopting a "double standard" in using UNCLOS to realize its selfish interests and "rebalance" other countries, the US, the self-proclaimed defender of regional maritime order and mediator of relevant disputes, should consciously abide by the maritime norms in accordance with the spirit of UNCLOS.

It should  show respect to the joint efforts by China and its neighbors in resolving relevant disputes through consultations and negotiations, and engage more in activities which are conductive to regional peace and stability, maritime cooperation and development.

The author is an associate research fellow with Center for Maritime Security and Cooperation Studies, China Institute of International Studies.

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