China maritime patrol Hou Jiansen/ZumaPress

Kan een conflict in de Zuid-Chinese Zee vermeden worden?

OXFORD – Toen een P8-A verkenningsvliegtuig van de Amerikaanse marine onlangs vlakbij Fiery Cross Reef in de Spratly Eilanden in de Zuid-Chinese Zee vloog, werd het door de Chinese marine achtmaal gemaand het gebied te verlaten. De Chinese minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Wang Yi zei dat “de vastberadenheid van China om zijn soevereiniteit en territoriale integriteit te verdedigen zo stevig als een rots is.” De Amerikaanse minister van Defensie Ashton Carter antwoordde dat “hier geen misverstand over mag bestaan: de Verenigde Staten zullen vliegen, varen en actief zijn waar het internationaal recht ons dat toestaat, zoals we dat over de hele wereld doen.” Dreigt er dus een conflict tussen de VS en China in de Zuid-Chinese Zee?

Toen ik in 1995 op het Pentagon werkte, begon China structuren te bouwen op Mischief Reef, dat door de Filippijnen wordt geclaimd en veel dichter bij de Filippijnse kust ligt dan bij die van China. De Verenigde Staten gaven een verklaring uit waarin geen standpunt werd ingenomen over de concurrerende claims van vijf staten op de plusminus 750 rotsen, atollen, eilandjes en riffen van de Spratleys, die over een groot gebied verspreid zijn - zo'n 425.000 vierkante kilometer in de Zuid-Chinese Zee. We drongen erop aan dat de betrokken partijen hun geschillen vreedzaam zouden oplossen.

Maar de VS verdedigden wel krachtdadig de zienswijze dat de Zuid-Chinese Zee, waartoe belangrijke transportroutes voor olie uit het Midden-Oosten en containerschepen uit Europa behoren, en waarover routinematig gevlogen wordt door militaire en civiele vliegtuigen, onderworpen was aan het Verdrag over het Zeerecht van de Verenigde Naties (UNCLOS).

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