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Beginning In 2010, The Former Administration Clearly Signaled

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Beginning in 2010, the former administration clearly signaled that rules-based stability in the SCS was important to the national interests of the United States.9 Their goal included a peaceful, non-coercive resolution of disputes over sovereignty and maritime entitlements, using a combination of diplomacy and enhanced military engagement with SCS coastal states.10
“Freedom of navigation” in the SCS, is another important interest that the United States must attempt to preserve. Our focus is the continued unimpeded lawful trade and commerce within the area, but we are also seeking to exercise of the freedoms of the high seas, associated with non-hostile military activities within the EEZ of China and other SCS littoral states.11 This
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official statements have stressed the need for SCS territorial claimants to follow the rules established by international law, specifically UNCLOS, and therefore we feel claims must be derived from land features in the SCS.14 In short, only terrestrial land (islands and rocks) generate maritime zones, not vice versa. Consequently, China’s NDL would not meet these criteria.
The U.S. is also very interested in continuing the freedom of navigation, which includes unimpeded lawful navigation for commercial, private and military vessels and aircraft.15 Our opinion has been that coastal states must respect accepted UNCLOS language that all “high seas freedoms,” including peaceful military operations, are applicable in the EEZs of coastal states.16 Although, the U.S. supports increased military access within the SCS, we have rejected the use of force or coercion by any of the claimants to resolve sovereignty disputes or change the status-quo of disputed SCS features.
Finally, the United States has also supported establishing a Code of Conduct that would promote a rules-based framework for managing and regulating the behavior of relevant countries in the SCS.17 This framework would need to include mechanisms such as hotlines and emergency procedures for preventing incidents in sensitive areas and management strategies for when problems occur, in order to prevent disputes from escalating. For model of this framework the U.S. has suggested adapting
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