China has been engaged in territorial disputes with several of its neighbors — including Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam — over ownership of several small island chains and their potential natural resources for years now. The Obama administration has been seeking to broker a diplomatic solution to the conflict, urging negotiation through various forums.
Taking that advice to heart, the Philippines has filed an arbitration claim against China at International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, in an effort to gain a binding decision on the matter. Congressman Royce, currently traveling as part of a delegation to the Philippines, added his voice to the plea that China participate in the proceedings:
“It is best that China joins the process so that we can move forward under international law,” the California Republican told The Associated Press after meeting Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and other diplomats in Manila.
“We want to calm the tensions,” Royce said. “We want this approached from the standpoint of diplomacy, and that is what we are conveying because in that way we don’t create crisis which roils the markets or creates uncertainty.”
Royce’s position is perfectly sensible and speaks to the importance of the role that arbitration plays in solving international disputes before they reach the point of violence. The United States, however, would be unable to avail itself of the Tribunal’s arbitration to get itself out of similar maritime quarrels. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which forms the authority of the Tribunal, has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, despite being signed in 1994.
UNCLOS came closer than it ever has to acheiving the two-thirds vote necessary to come into effect during the last Congress. Support for treaty poured in from almost all sides — including in testimony from representatives of big business such as the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, members of the military, and five former Republican Secretaries of States — urging ratification.
The treaty still died at the hands of Republicans in the Senate, who seemed to take the word of conspiracy theorists over American interests. It may eventually come that the U.S. will require aid similar to the Philippines in working with China, aid that UNCLOS won’t be able to provide.