Last month, a US EP-3 aircraft undertook close reconnaissance near Hainan Island forcing two Chinese fighter jets, which maintained a safe distance from the aircraft, to track and monitor its activities.
Earlier, the guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of Yongshu Reef in the Nansha Islands without Chinese permission.
The US protested Chinese ‘aggressive’ actions in the area by sailing its guided-missile destroyer through the territorial waters of China to demonstrate the commitment to protecting “freedom of navigation.” “Yet we refuse to sign the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the international effort to formalize the rules governing freedom of navigation on the high seas,” he revealed, telling us “critics of American foreign policy love to point out instances where the policy reeks of hypocrisy.“
He mentioned that opponents of the UNCLOS, “like US Senators Portman and Ayotte, contend that the convention infringes on US sovereignty, in particular with regard to its provision for international arbitration of dispute.”
He believes the main reason for our unwillingness to ratify the UNCLOS lies elsewhere. “We have a number of possessions in the Pacific, formally called US Minor Outlying Islands, around which we claim EEZs(Exclusive Economic Zone),” he said, “most of these possessions were acquired in the late 19th century under the Guano Islands Act of 1856.”
The story was like a gold rush, for guano deposits at the time as the phosphate-rich bird poop was much sought after as a fertilizer. The act authorized any American captain who stumbled on an uninhabited, unclaimed island covered in guano to claim it in the name of the United States. “Under the act dozens of islands came into America’s possession, most of which we gave up once an island had been stripped clean, literally. Currently, none of our outlying islands have permanent residents,” he revealed.
“The EEZs around these outlying ‘islands’ cover a sizeable area. Just one of the equatorial EEZs, that around the Howland and Baker Islands, is larger than the EEZ off the California coast.” However, he explained, “under UNCLOS, many of these ‘islands’ would be deemed mere rocks, not entitled to EEZs. Hence, ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea would result in a significant diminution of US Exclusive Economic Zones.”
“Despite the rocky grounds for many of our own claims, we pooh-pooh Chinese claims based on similar grounds,” said Ken. Then, he recalled that recently the former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Kathleen Hicks, who belittled China’s claim to the Huangyan Island because it is almost underwater at high tide, “yet US claim not only the territorial waters but also an EEZ around a reef in the Hawaiian Islands chain, Maro Reef, which is entirely submerged, even at LOW tide,” he stressed.
He also mentioned Navassa Island, another Guano Islands Act possession of US, which lies far from US shores but just off the coast of Haiti. However, distance cannot stop US claims it.
“Similarly, when bemoaning how far China’s nine-dash-line delineating its claims in the South China Sea extends from the Chinese mainland, we should consider what a line encompassing our own far-flung possessions would look like,” he said.
By Gao Shi from People’s Daily