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Given that over $5 trillion in international trade passes through the South China Sea annually, the dispute over China’s artificial islands is critical to the future of free navigation. This administration’s failure to defend international norms now will only make it more difficult for future American leaders to challenge China’s unlawful claims.
The United States should never threaten to exercise freedom of navigation (FON). It should, simply, always be exercising that freedom. If the US tacitly agrees to forego FON exercises in return for some Chinese commitment in the South China Sea, China would learn a dangerous lesson: that freedom of the seas, a fundamental underpinning of the global order, is not as important to the United States as Washington claims.
The US does not need a “new model of great power relations” or any other new slogan to describe the relationship. Instead, US-China diplomacy should be conducted in a workmanlike fashion to maintain a modicum of strategic stability, to ensure the good working order of the global economic system, and to press for improvements in China’s respect for human rights.
Over the past week, candidates from both right and left have been talking tough about China. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have focused on economic issues. Hillary Clinton has commented on Chinese cyberattacks. Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have each brought up Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea as well as its intensifying crack down on human rights activists.
We don’t need to wait for the elections this fall to see that Burma has already limited its people’s freedom to speak by taking away their vote; or that rather than strengthening the roots of democracy, the Burmese government is poisoning them; or that the rights and freedoms for all people in Burma have, in important ways, been curtailed since the last elections were held.
A new study, which claims Chinese coal emissions between 2000 and 2012 were overstated by 40%, may prove inaccurate. Nevertheless, it highlights problems with data provided by Chinese national and local governments. American policy needs better information much more than it needs theatrics, and climate policy is no exception.