Lack of consistency undermines US strategy in South China Sea

May I propose adding a sixth pillar - moral superiority - to Professor Joseph Chinyong Liow's very thoughtful piece (Five pillars for a US strategy on the South China Sea; Aug 1).

America certainly is aware that if it accepts the arbitration ruling that Taiping Island, the largest of the naturally occurring Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, is not an island, then it must similarly accept that Okinotori atoll in the western Pacific is not an island as Japan contends, and Japan therefore can have no claims or entitlements to it.

However, America challenges China's claims in the South China Sea but not Japan's claims around Okinotori. Such selective application of the rule of law is a double standard. It will not work and will give China the impression that the US is scheming to impose on China a modern-day unequal treaty.

For any strategy to work, America must first regain the moral high ground by launching freedom of navigation operations against Okinotori, calling out Japan's violation of international law and demanding that Japan rescind its claims, demolish its construction around Okinotori, openly apologise to the Taiwan fishing captain whom Japan strip-searched after seizing his fishing boat in international waters around Okinotori last year, and compensate the captain for his losses.

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Chang Wen Lam (Dr)
Hong Kong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'Lack of consistency undermines US strategy in South China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe