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2015年10月24日 (土)

(社説)南シナ海問題 中国は航行の自由守れ

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 23
EDITORIAL: China must not hinder freedom of navigation in South China Sea
(社説)南シナ海問題 中国は航行の自由守れ

Tensions are mounting between the United States and China in the South China Sea, where several countries are locked in bitter disputes concerning their territorial claims.

The United States is poised to send naval ships or aircraft to areas near artificial islands China has been building through land reclamation. The Obama administration has decided to take the action to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims to these islands.

Under international law, a country’s territorial waters are defined as a belt of coastal waters extending up to 12 nautical miles from the shores of the country. But U.S. forces will enter what China claims to be its territorial waters around the man-made islands to make clear Washington’s rejection of Beijing’s unilateral claims.

China has no right to protest Washington’s decision. There are no legal grounds for China’s territorial claims to the islands it has built or the waters around them.

Even if these were Chinese waters, international rules require China to allow foreign military ships to sail through them freely as long as they are only exercising the right of “innocent passage,” or peaceful transit not harmful to the good order or security of the coastal state.

No country should undermine the maritime principle of freedom of navigation based on international norms.

Any country’s attempt to change these basic maritime rules at its own discretion is unacceptable, especially in the South China Sea, through which one of the world’s most important sea routes passes.

What is worrisome is how China will react to the U.S. military’s move. A direct confrontation between the forces of the two countries could create a dangerously tense and volatile situation in the Western Pacific region.

A military clash between the United States and China must be averted at any cost. The U.S. military obviously should refrain from any unnecessary provocation while operating in the areas.

The blame for the rise in tension in the South China Sea rests with China. The Chinese government should comply with international rules and restrain itself to prevent any unexpected security emergency from occurring.

China’s arguments for its territorial claims concerning the disputed areas are unreasonable in the first place. China asserts it has jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea, but there is no solid legal foundation for this claim.

China’s demand that military ships obtain its permission before they pass through its territorial waters, which is based on its 1992 territorial sea law, is also unacceptable.

The current situation requires China to make a crucial choice between developing as a country that complies with international rules or going down the dangerous path of changing the status quo by force, ignoring international rules.

The Chinese government, however, is showing some signs of softening its attitude. It has said the artificial islands will be used mainly for “private-sector services” and proposed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work together to develop a “code of conduct” to avoid clashes in the South China Sea.

This is the time for China to demonstrate that it has good sense as a responsible major country.

The situation will also test the international community’s approach to dealing with the assertive China.

The coming weeks will offer some good opportunities for the leaders of the countries concerned to discuss the issue, such as a summit of the Group of 20 industrial nations and a meeting of the leaders of members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, both slated for November. These opportunities should be used to explore ways to secure stability in the South China Sea.

The situation also has huge implications for Japan, where new national security legislation was recently enacted. Japan must not forget that its principal role is not military involvement but diplomatic work to help build unity among countries.

Japan needs to use its close relations with ASEAN for tenacious efforts to ease tensions in the South China Sea.


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