Disputes and confrontations over portions of the Pacific Ocean continue to grow. Indonesia’s government seized a Chinese fishing vessel on June 17 off the Natuna Islands, administered by Jakarta. That nation’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla accompanied the move with tough talk directed at Beijing.
On June 15, a China reconnaissance ship violated Japan’s waters. Six days earlier, another China vessel came near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. These tiny islands are under the jurisdiction of Japan.
In April 2014, Beijing authorities impounded the Baosteel Emotion, a freighter of Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines. The move was part of commercial claims resulting from World War II.
Last June, Vietnam news sources reported fishing boats from the nation were attacked by China in disputed waters. In the first incident, water cannon flooded a ship, and a fisherman’s leg was broken. In the second, a fishing boat was boarded and robbed.
This occurred near the Paracel Islands, claimed by both nations. In January 1974, China and South Vietnam fought a naval battle there, which underscored Beijing’s aggressive long-term efforts to control the islands.
More widely, China is constructing permanent artificial islands in the South China Sea, including putting military and civilian facilities on them. As indicated, this enormous effort aggravates already strained relations with other nations in addition to Vietnam.
A range of governments are engaged in contemporary maritime disputes in and near the Pacific, including Argentina, Britain, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China steadily expands militarily, including strategic naval capacities. Traditionally, the nation has been cautious in using military force for aggressive moves, but that may be changing.
President Barack Obama’s recent visits to Japan and Vietnam took place in the context of these continuing disputes. The Obama administration formally announced that greater strategic priority would be devoted to the Pacific.
Since World War II, the greatest concentration of U.S. Navy ships has been committed to this vast region. American forces have fought major wars in Korea and Vietnam. Washington has been sending military ships and aircraft into and near some disputed areas in the Pacific.
Great Britain, before World War II, was the paramount maritime power in the world and remains important. London is a global insurance industry center, populated by firms rooted initially in maritime salvage as well as shipping operations.
The Falkland Islands in the far southwest Atlantic was the site of a brief but extremely harsh war in 1982. Argentina’s military regime seized the islands in a surprise move. The British recaptured the islands, demonstrating exceptional military effectiveness with vital U.S. logistical support.
Ocean commerce has generated deeply rooted and durable international law, which continues to be extremely important today. Maritime law indicates the practical utility as well as moral imperative of the rule of law.
Britain and the United States have an opportunity to collaborate and build a coalition of Asian nations regarding maritime conflicts. A case brought by the Philippines against Beijing’s South China Sea aggression will soon be decided by the international court in The Hague, Netherlands. The related Law of the Sea Treaty, completed in 1982, has been approved by much of the world but not the U.S. government.
This is an ideal time for members of the U.S. Senate to provide long-overdue bipartisan ratification of this important treaty.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions are the writer’s.