While working to construct better conflict resolution mechanisms and improve relations with the PLAN, Washington must continue to emphasize that its policy is not subject to fear, intimidation, coercion, or reckless behavior from Chinese naval or coastal defense forces. This should include maintaining an active schedule of surveillance activities, patrolling, and freedom of navigation operations. This position is not only within the U.S. national interest, but also supported by domestic and international law. Were the U.S. to accept China’s interpretation of UNCLOS, U.S. military vessels could be barred from operating in the roughly one-third of the world’s oceans that are now EEZs (102 million of 335 million sq. km of ocean). That outcome is unacceptable to the U.S. and its allies and was never envisioned by the drafters of UNCLOS.
Jeff M. Smith is Director of South Asia Programs and Kraemer Strategy Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) in Washington, D.C.
Joshua Eisenman is Senior Fellow for China Studies at the AFPC and has been appointed assistant professor at the University of Texas-Austin Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy/CC by 2.0