This article appears in the May 6, 2016 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
“After the war, it was clearly recognized by the Allied Powers that the islands were a part of Chinese territory and should be returned to China. Both the war-time Cairo Declaration and the subsequent Potsdam Declaration are explicit in their demand that Japan should give back these occupied islands to China.”
Prelude to War in the Pacific
by William Jones
April 30—President Obama’s provocative policy in the Pacific is leading to a conflict between nuclear powers, and can have no other result if the policy is not quickly reversed. These provocations have gone so far as sailing destroyers straight into waters legitimately claimed as territorial waters by the People’s Republic of China, in alleged “freedom of navigation” patrols, and attempts to line up local “allies” to join in. While the naval deployments are accompanied by all sorts of high-falutin’ moralizing rhetoric from the U.S. government, in reality they have less justification than the European gunboats on the Yangtze in the 19th Century.
In response to Chinese attempts to assert their legitimate claims to the Nansha (Spratly) and the Xisha (Paracel) Islands, the United States has organized joint sorties with its “ally,” the Philippines, to patrol the seas right up to the 12-mile limit off the shore of the Chinese mainland. Obama refers to a supposed threat to “freedom of navigation,” but China has never threatened or contested that freedom in the South China Sea,— where the overwhelming majority of all navigation is to and from China itself.
Freedom of Navigation or Gunboat Diplomacy?
Freedom of navigation in non-territorial waters has long been a staple of maritime law, from Hugo Grotius’ classic Law of the Seas to the more recent UN Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). When the UNCLOS Treaty was promulgated in 1982, the United States did not sign it, ostensibly because of the limitations the treaty would place on its offshore drilling operations.
In reality, the United States had already, during the Carter Administration, pre-empted joining such a treaty by elaborating what it called its Freedom of Navigation Policy, which in effect guaranteed the right of U.S. naval vessels to sail freely anywhere in the world that was not considered sovereign territory (that is, within 12 miles of any country’s land borders). This included freely sailing within any country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ, defined by the UNCLOS as a region within 200 miles of a country’s land border). While the UNCLOS also allows “innocent passage” within the EEZ for military vessels that are not conducting military or reconnaissance operations, the treaty does not prevent a country from requiring notification of such passage.