Between island-building to control the South China Seas and sending an armada of fishing boats to net the ecological treasures off the Galapagos Island, it is quite clear that China’s actions to exert regional influence and address potential economic issues at home are causing chaos on the high seas.

In an act of hubris that is now unsurprising from the nation, China is demanding a spot on an international tribunal that settles maritime disputes.

China has nominated a Chinese candidate for a judge’s position in an international tribunal that settles maritime disputes. But the U.S. is seeking to stop China, arguing that Beijing has flouted international sea laws in the disputed South China Sea.

“Electing a PRC official to this body is like hiring an arsonist to help run the Fire Department,” said David Stilwell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, at an online forum held by think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies last month.

PRC refers to the People’s Republic of China, the official name of the country.

“We urge all countries involved in the upcoming International Tribunal election to carefully assess the credentials of the PRC candidate and consider whether a PRC judge on the Tribunal will help or hinder international maritime law. Given Beijing’s record, the answer should be clear,” he added.

The selection will be made in September. Meanwhile, some Pacific nations are rethinking their relations with China. Australia recently submitted a diplomatic note to a United Nations commission, now supporting the U.S. in its fight against China’s expansive South China Sea claims.

Australia’s note to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf challenged the legal basis for many of China’s claims, including those to the Paracel and Spratly Islands, as well as rights to sovereign and internal commerce in the sea’s zone.

Even further, Canberra rejected one of China’s more ambitious claims—that artificial islands can become internationally recognized—as fully incorrect. Australia “does not accept that artificially transformed features can ever acquire the status of an island,” the diplomatic brief reads.

The change of tune from America’s oceanic ally comes soon after America’s own strategic pivot. On July 14, Washington announced its intention to no longer recognize Chinese claims within the body of water. In effect, the move promotes freedom of navigation and commerce as well as the sovereignty of Asian allies in a region through which a massive amount of the world’s commerce—some 21 percent in 2016—flows.

Additionally, Malaysian officials now say that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea have no legal basis.

In a note verbale dated Wednesday, the Malaysian mission to the U.N. wrote to Secretary General Antonio Guterres that it “rejects China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line.'”

Noting that China’s claims are contrary to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or Unclos, it added, “The Government of Malaysia considers that the People’s Republic of China’s claim to the maritime features in the South China Sea has no basis under international law.”

The language echoed a joint statement issued by the U.S. and Australia earlier this week, in which the ministers of foreign affairs and defense affirmed that “Beijing’s maritime claims are not valid under international law.”

Finally, Ecuadorian officials indicate that China has agreed to allow supervision of its fishing vessels near the Galapagos Islands.

“China accepts Ecuador’s supervision of Chinese fishing vessels that are at sea,” Foreign Minister Luis Gallegos told a legislative commission, adding that China had agreed to hold bilateral talks about the issue.

Gallegos said Chinese authorities have vowed a policy of “zero tolerance” toward vessels linked to illegal fishing and the companies that own those vessels.

He did not provide details on what the supervision would involve.

Of course, their plan places a lot of trust in China. I predict a few more species will be making the Endangered Species List before too long.


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