South China Sea

South China Sea

ASEAN  agreed to limit any new development on uninhabited islands in the South China Sea. China and other nations have also agreed. The Philippines has agreed to bilateral talks with China on their issues.

This is a letter by Jenny Clegg, Honorary Member of the 48 Group club, in the Financial Times


Dear Editor,

With regard to your editorial ‘A big test for Beijing over the South China Sea’ (13 July), which, following the UNCLOS court of arbitration ruling on the South China Sea and its rejection by China, called on the UK to engage with the US to bring China back into conformity with international law, there was a vital piece of information missing: namely that the US is not itself a signatory of UNCLOS.  The suggestion seems to be that China in particular must be held to account since it committed to the law in the first place. Does that mean that since the US maintains its stand outside the convention, this is OK?

In fact, it might encourage China to do as you say in the editorial and accept the primacy of international law in this case, if the US was indeed to sign up to UNCLOS.  China views itself as an equal of the US and the fact that the US remains exempt from certain aspects of international governance is from China’s point of view a problem.  Another instance that comes to mind is the US-China stand-off – (I won’t join until you join) – over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

If China and the US are both unhappy with UNCLOS, as they evidently are, then let them sit down and renegotiate it.  The fact is that UNCLOS is hardly watertight. That so many other countries sought to avail themselves of the opt outs available in Article 298, when signing up to the treaty, suggests there would be wide support for revision.  Surely finding agreement on new rules for the world’s waters would be the best way to avoid the escalation of US-China competition in the South China Sea into war.

Dr. Jenny Clegg

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