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Would America Really Go to War Over the South China Sea?

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What would America do if China starts to build an island base on Scarborough Shoal, declares an ADIZ over the Spratlys, or in some other way plainly takes steps to strengthen still further its grip on the South China Sea in defiance of international law and American demands?

President Obama ought to think about this very carefully as he visits China for the last time as President, because it has become the question that will define the future of the US-China relationship.

UNCLOS Won't Help America in the South China Sea

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Last month’s much-awaited ruling in Philippines v. China rekindled a longstanding debate among foreign-policy experts and elected officials over the implications of the Senate’s decades-long refusal to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

But rather than focus on China’s blatant disregard for its international legal obligations, some have highlighted that the United States’ absence from UNCLOS allows China “to deflect U.S. criticism and highlight Washington’s hypocrisy,” as East Asia expert Ali Wyne put it. [READ MORE]

ASSESSING THE MILITARY SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA LAND FEATURES

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This article aims to provide a fair assessment of the military significance of the South China Sea land features. The term land feature is intentionally selected to avoid the trouble of arguing whether they are islands, reefs, shoals or rocks.

How these land features can be categorized into the terms shown above may possibly cause differences according to the international regimes governing maritime jurisdictions, but not the military significance of the land features alone. [READ MORE]

AFTER THE ARBITRATION: DOES NON-COMPLIANCE MATTER?

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International law does not contain an enforcement mechanism comparable to those of domestic legal systems.

Two previous cases where states explicitly announced that they would not comply with the decision of a dispute settlement body are relevant to the Philippines v China arbitration. [READ MORE]

5 Things About Asean and the South China Sea Dispute

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On July 12, an international arbitration tribunal at The Hague ruled that China’s so-called “nine-dash line,” a demarcation it uses to claim most of the South China Sea, had no legal basis under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea, a treaty to which China and Southeast Asian nations are parties.

The ruling was a win for the Philippines, which instigated the case in 2013, but also for countries that claim usage rights extending 200 nautical miles from their shores into the sea, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. [READ MORE]

Parting the South China Sea How to Uphold the Rule of Law

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 After more than three years of proceedings at the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an international body in The Hague, a tribunal constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) issued a widely anticipated decision in a case the Philippines brought in 2013 to challenge China’s maritime claims [2] to most of the contested waterway [3].

Many observers had expected the tribunal to rule in Manila’s favor. They’d also expected China to reject the tribunal’s decision, since Beijing, a signatory to the convention, has long opposed the proceedings and had warned that it would not abide by the judgment. [READ MORE]

How to Avoid War in the South China Sea

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President Xi Jinping seems to agree with the Athenian general who, more than 2,000 years ago, warned the people of Melos that  the strong do what they wish and the weak do as they are compelled.

His government insists that nearly all the South China Sea belongs to China—even islets and reefs close to the Philippines and five other littoral states but hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland. Instead of raising China in harmony, Beijing’s policies point the world toward the brink of war. [READ MORE]

How the U.S. Should Respond in the South China Sea: Build Its Own Islands

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The Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision places more pressure on the U.S. than China, as Washington must now act to support this emphatic judgement. Failure to do so will further weaken America's credibility, and undermine the rules-based order it seeks to preserve.

In order to determine how the US may effectively respond, China's strategy must be understood. [READ MORE]

South China Sea: Building up trouble

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Washington sees the ruling, issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, after a complaint from the Philippines, as a victory for what some US officials describe as a 21st century rules-based order over China’s 19th-century plans for its own sphere of influence.

By rejecting so many of the assumptions that underpinned Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea, the tribunal has put it on the spot. [READ MORE]

America needs more than symbolic gestures in the South China Sea

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Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of US Pacific Command, was recently asked in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about China’s strategic goals.

“China seeks hegemony in East Asia. Simple as that,” he responded. Admiral Harris concluded: “China is clearly militarising the South China Sea and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise.” [READ MORE]

The South China Sea: China v the rest

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FOR years China has sought to divide and rule in the South China Sea. It worked hard to prevent the countries challenging it over some or all of its absurdly aggrandising territorial claims in the sea from ganging up against it.

So when tensions with one rival claimant were high, it tended not to provoke others. Not any more. In a kind of united-front policy in reverse, it now seems content to antagonise them all at the same time. [READ MORE]

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