Many politicians have recently voiced concern regarding Chinese activity in the South China Sea. With all the issues to be discussed some might wonder why so much attention has been paid to a body of water so far away from the U.S?
The answer lies in an American interest as old as the Republic itself.
It is not easy to trace the forces that shape the history of a nation’s interest. It is undeniable, however, that the freedom of the seas is among the most an enduring of America’s. In fact, concern for it brought us to blows with the British as early as 1812.
The U.S. interest resides in the principle because we know that whatever the circumstances, freedom of the seas will serve us, and our allies well. When the principle is respected, people of sovereign nations can trade with one another by sea unhindered and to their great benefit.
The South China Sea may be on the other side of the Pacific. But it is a major thoroughfare for trade. As pointed out in The Heritage Foundation’s “2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength,” roughly half of global trade in goods, a third of trade in oil, and over half of global liquefied natural gas shipments pass though the South China Sea.” In an global economy where the market is the most powerful arbiter in deciding how production is distributed, and where market disruptions in one part of the world can directly impact matters as close to home as retirement accounts invested on Wall Street, the free flow of trade is of enormous importance to American citizens.
For this reason, freedom of the seas is not just something Republicans are concerned about. Disagree with the way President Obama is pursuing our interest in it, or with the cuts in military spending that have handicapped our ability to protect it, but it is certainly something he is focused on.
In fact, the American President has just returned from meetings In Manila and Kuala Lumpur where he raised the issue quite pointedly. The problem for the U.S. today is the People’s Republic of China and the massive claim it stakes to the virtually the entire sea.
Their claim to the waters of the South China Sea is comparable to a U.S. claim on the entire Gulf of Mexico, or all the water between the lower-48 and Hawaii. It cannot go unchallenged unless the U.S. and the rest of the world want to ply those waters as guests of the Chinese.
Their claim to the waters of the South China Sea is comparable to a U.S. claim on the entire Gulf of Mexico
That is the expressed Chinese preference, and they are correct that commercial shipping is not threatened today. The catch is that if the ships are mere guests, then, like all guests, they may also be asked one day to go home, or otherwise have conditions placed on their presence.
The way to protect American interests in the free…