The United States conducts freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) to uphold the rules-based international order of unfettered access to the world’s global commons—especially in support of a free and open Indo- Pacific. However, Beijing has ignored the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under Annex VII of the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), which concluded China’s claims to possession of most of the South China Sea, encompassed by the so-called nine-dash line, are without legal effect.1
FONOPs are legally important because they contest improper territorial claims, but they do little to deter China’s harassment of Southeast Asian fishermen. China Coast Guard vessels regularly harass and intimidate fishing vessels from the Philippines and other regional nations operating near Scarborough Reef and throughout the South China Sea.2 The FONOP/military-only solution yields few strategic gains and is unlikely to deter China or assuage allies and partners from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
1. ADM Philip Davidson, USN, “On U.S. Indo-Pacom Command Posture” (Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee), 12 February 2018, 3.
2. Davidson, “Indo-Pacom Command Posture,” 5.
3. Le Hong Hiep, Can ASEAN Overcome the ‘Consensus Dilemma’ over the South China Sea. (The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies: October 2016), 9.
4. Hongzhou Zhang, “Fisheries Cooperation in the South China Sea: Evaluating the Options,” Marine Policy 89 (2018), 69.
5. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Building Food Security and Managing Risk in Southeast Asia (OECD Publishing, 2017), 8.
6. Thang Nguyen Dang, “Fisheries Co-operation in the South China Sea and the Irrelevance of the Sovereignty Question,” Asian Journal of International Law 2 (2012), 88.
7. Ankit Panda “How Much Trade Transits the South China Sea? Not $5.3 Trillion a Year,” Scientific American (2017), 5.
8. Hongzhou Zhang, “Fisheries Cooperation in the South China Sea,” 67.
9. National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: White House, December 2017), 11.
10. AFRICOM Public Affairs, Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) Program (U.S. Army, 2016).
11. Davidson, “Indo-Pacom Command Posture,” 14.
12. Sam LaGrone, “Former U.S. Cutter Morgenthau Transferred to Vietnamese Coast Guard,” USNI News, 26 May 2017.
13. Prashanth Parameswaran, “Are Sulu Sea Trilateral Patrols Actually Working?” (The Wilson Center, 29 January 2019).
14. U.S. Navy, CTF 73 Public Affairs, “US-Philippine Navies Complete Coordinated Patrol in Southern Sulu Sea,” 30 June 2017.
15. Andrew Erickson, Understanding China’s Third Sea Force: The Maritime Militia (Medium, September 8, 2017).
16. Kristian McGuire, “China–South Korea Relations: A Delicate Détente,” The Diplomat, February 2018.
17. Daniel Runde, “The BUILD Act Has Passed: What’s Next?” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 12 October 2018.
18. Hidetaka Yoshimatsu, “Japan’s Export of Infrastructure Systems: Pursuing Twin Goals Through Developmental Means,” The Pacific Review, no. 4 (2017).
19. Murray Hiebert, Southeast Asia Financial Integration and Infrastructure Investment (Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2018).