By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University hosted a Maritime Conflict Resolution Workshop Wednesday at Mitchell Memorial Library, where political experts from across the U.S. and multiple Pacific Asian countries convened to discuss responses to growing Chinese military power in the region’s waters.
The primary discussion topic at the workshop was Chinese non-compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and conflicts which have resulted.
As an example, Eduardo Santos, retired Philippine naval vice admiral, gave a presentation on a standoff between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal, a lagoon 472 nautical miles from China but 120 miles from the Philippines.
In April, Santos said, the Philippines dispatched naval inspection vessels to apprehend Chinese sailors for fishing deemed illegal under UNCLOS. The Chinese responded by sending vessels to block the lagoon’s entrance, he said.
“The Philippines have asked China to bring their dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for arbitration,” Santos said. “However, China insists on maintaining dialogue with other claimants on a bilateral basis and rules out any multilateral approach. The (Filipino) government is currently pursuing a modest, minimum-capability upgrade program for self-defense. The government will pursue diplomacy to minimize tensions in the area. (We hope for) strong backing from the international community as we continue to fight for the rule of law.”
Another of the guests, retired Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Admiral Sumihiko Kawamura, said the time has come for the U.S. to take action, joining forces with Japan. The JMSDF and U.S. naval fleets are the strongest in the Asian Pacific, he said, and together, the two countries could establish joint patrols of the South China Sea to ensure China abides by UNCLOS. He said such a move would be in the best interests of the U.S. and all the small Asian countries that rely on the U.S. for protection.
“Once China succeeds (in making) the South China Sea its own backyard, lake or sanctuary for submarine deployment, China will get credible sea-based nuclear deterrence capability, which means Chinese nuclear deterrence capability becomes equal to the U.S.,” Kawamura said. “So far, Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan (and) Korea... are now enjoying the U.S. nuclear umbrella.”
Kawamura said that umbrella allows for compromise between the smaller countries and China, but compromise becomes less likely if China’s military strategies succeed. James Auer, director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation, said while China has signed and ratified UNCLOS but does not abide by it, the U.S. has signed UNCLOS and abides by it but has not technically ratified it.
“In the U.S., a treaty has to be ratified by the Senate,” Auer said. “More than 50 percent are in favor, but you have to have two thirds. If, in fact, (the U.S.) were all-powerful, I guess we wouldn’t need (UNCLOS), but we’re not all-powerful anymore.”
Specifically, Auer said he could remember when the U.S. Navy had more than 800 ships active.
“Today, we have less than 300 ships,” Auer said. “(Those) ships can’t be in nearly as many places.”
In addition to discussion of maritime conflicts, Auer said the workshop serves to honor Janos Radvanyi, executive director of MSU’s Center for International Security and Strategic Studies, which organized the event.
“He was once a Hungarian ambassador to the U.S.,” Auer said. “He defected in the 1960s, and he was condemned to death by the Hungarian government of the time.”
Radvanyi received political asylum in the U.S., Auer said, becoming founder of the CISS at MSU. Hungary has since come to consider Radvanyi a hero, he said, and he has brought a number of international representatives to present at the CISS over the years. He was also honored at a dinner Wednesday evening at the Hunter Henry Center, where Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman issued a proclamation in his honor.
Wiseman said the proclamation recognizes Radvanyi’s lifetime achievements and names him an honorary ambassador for the city of Starkville.
“Dr. Radvanyi is an internationally known figure in the diplomatic community,” Wiseman said. “The city of Starkville and MSU are fortunate to be associated with the distinguished reputation that he has garnered over decades of service to this country.”