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New State Department Testimony in Favor of LOS Accession

Testifying on "Maritime Issues in East Asia," Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel made the strongest public endorsement of US accession to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea I can recall since President Obama's speech at West Point early in his second term.

Russel mentioned "Law of the Sea" eight times in his testimony before the SFRC and on page 5 of his 7 page written testimony made the following remarks (I have added bold in the third paragraph to draw your attention to the key recommendation):

We also play an important role building regional consensus around rules and acceptable practices with regard to maritime and territorial issues. We defend the use of legal dispute settlement mechanisms that may be available to countries – including arbitration under the Law of the Sea Convention – when diplomatic negotiations have not yielded results.

I would like to make two points regarding the Law of the Sea Convention. First, with respect to arbitration, although China has chosen not to participate in the case brought by the Philippines, the Law of the Sea Convention makes clear that “the absence of a party or failure of a party to defend its case shall not constitute a bar to the proceedings.” It is equally clear under the Convention that a decision by the tribunal in the case will be legally binding on both China and the Philippines. The international community expects both the Philippines and China to respect the ruling, regardless of outcome.

Secondly, I respectfully urge the Senate to take up U.S. accession of the Law of the Sea Convention. Accession has been supported by every Republican and Democratic administration since it was transmitted to the Senate in 1994. It is supported by the U.S. military, by industry, environmental groups, and other stakeholders. I speak in the interests of U.S. foreign policy in the South China Sea in requesting Senate action to provide advice and consent to accede to the Convention. Doing so will help safeguard U.S. national security interests and provide additional credibility to U.S. efforts to hold other countries’ accountable to their obligations under this vitally important treaty.

Download the full written testimony by Daniel Russel here.

Russel's written testimony was an interesting contrast with that of David B. Shear, Assistant Secretary Of Defense for Asian And Pacific Security Affairs in which LOS was only mentioned once, in the familiar US formulation related to customary law. Shear's sole reverence to law of the sea was:

"China could reduce strategic uncertainty by taking concrete steps to: clarify or adjust its Nine Dash Line claim in order to bring it into accordance with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention; ..."

Senator Ben Cardin, ranking minority member of the SFRC, gave his own recommendation that accession to the LOS Convention would give the US stronger standing in resolving issues in the South China Sea (see video at 14 minutes 38 seconds followed by Sen. Bob Corker's subsequent attempt to counter Cardin by pointing out that China is party to the Convention and Senator Cardin's rebuttal).

Visit hearing page with video of testimony and Q&A.

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