A series of emergency communications links between US military commanders and their Chinese counterparts could help prevent crises in disputed regions such as the South China Sea from spiraling out of control, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino recommended during a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination for re-appointment to the position.
Aquilino told the Senate Armed Services Committee that such a link already exists between the Chairman on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his Chinese counterpart, but that he does not currently have that capability.
“If confirmed, I would continue to advocate for that connection to ensure there’s an ability to de-escalate if there were an event and the ability to not let it go out of control. I think that communication mechanism could be effective if that connection was with someone who had decision-making authority,” Aquilino said.
Aquilino also urged the US to ratify the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty (UNCLOS). Although the treaty remains unratified by the US Senate, Aquilino noted the global accord provides a legal basis for US military operations under international law.
“We adhere to the UNCLOS treaty in our operations and it would make our position much stronger if we were signatories,” Aquilino said.
Aquilino’s recommendations came during an exchange with lawmakers over the potential for conflict between China and the United States during US-led military exercises in the South China Sea – so-called Freedom of Navigation Operations that intended to enforce global navigation rights under UNCLOS.
China claims sovereignty over the entire waterway and has established military bases on a series of artificial islands to enforce its claims.