Regarding the Oct. 31 article “Are U.S. FONOPs upholding freedom or stirring up trouble?” Denny Roy implies that Southeast Asian countries want the United States to continue its confrontational FONOPs. But that is not at all clear. The ASEAN Defense Ministers Plus Meeting expressed unusually blunt concern with the recent Decatur incident. The host, Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Heng, said, “Some of the incidents are from assertion of principles, but we recognize that the price of any physical incident is one that is too high and unnecessary to either assert or prove your position.” This criticism was aimed at least in part at the U.S. use of warships to assert its legal position.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that the presence of warships in the South China Sea is sending the “wrong signal” and is not “healthy” for peace and stability in the area. Indonesia’s Lahut Pandjaitan, then Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs said, “… we don’t like any power projection.” Then Philippines Foreign Minister Alan Cayetano scolded pundits who criticized the presence of Chinese ships in the South China Sea but did not criticize the presence of U.S. warships in the disputed waters.
Roy also alleges that U.S. intelligence probes in China’s EEZ are “allowed by the Law of the Sea.” This is misleading. UNCLOS was a “package deal” and non-ratifiers like the U.S. cannot legitimately choose which UNCLOS provisions they wish to abide by, deem them customary law, and unilaterally interpret them to their benefit. This is particularly so regarding the duty to pay “due regard” to the rights of the coastal state including its marine scientific research consent and environmental protection regimes.
The U.S. is trying to establish its own interpretation of “freedom of navigation” for its warships through its practices.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.