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Law of the Sea Treaty as a peace tool for US

Senate approval of the Law of the Sea Treaty would help the US counter China's aggressive moves to claim islands near the Philippines and other Asian neighbors.

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Filipino naval personnel look at giant clam shells on board a Chinese fishing vessel at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, near the Philippines, April 10. The Philippine government said the standoff began when its navy tried to detain Chinese boats fishing in its waters, but was stopped by two Chinese surveillance craft.

Philippine Navy/AP Photo

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To prevent wars, the United States needs the best tools of peace. But right now it is missing a critical one in not approving the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Adopting this international pact, which 153 nations now follow, could come in very handy as the US tries to help end a heated conflict in East Asian waters.

Since early April, China and the Philippines have been in a tense, ship-to-ship standoff over control of a disputed shoal in the South China Sea. As a defense ally of the Philippines, the US could be obligated to assist the Philippines if China forcibly takes Scarborough Shoal.

In the past, China has shown it is willing to kill the soldiers of other countries in taking various islands in the sea. Even on Wednesday, China stated that it “has ... made all preparations to respond to any escalation of the situation by the Philippine side.”

China’s aggressive tactics to assert maritime rights and claims in the seas around its shores could be better countered if the US were on firm legal ground with a rules-based approach to resolving such disputes. To achieve that, the Senate must approve the Law of the Sea Treaty soon.

The six nations that contest the islands, reefs, and waters of the South China Sea are all signatories to the pact. But China’s interpretation of it is often vague or not widely accepted. It relies on its economic muscle to gain concessions or reject international mediation of a dispute.

Even the map that China uses to assert a claim hundreds of miles from its mainland consists of only a few ill-defined lines. In addition, it seems to prefer dealing with each claimant nation individually in hopes of avoiding a multilateral approach.

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