These days you can't pick up a paper without reading about the "conflict" in the South China Sea. It would seem that a bunch of countries are "disputing" a large portion of the territory under water because it would seem to contain massive natural resources including oil. Fair enough, so far nothing new here.
If you want to educate yourself, head to Wikipedia and search for "Territorial disputes in the South China Sea". In that page you will find a timeline of different disputes, beginning with the disputing countries, which (so far) are: Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Fair enough, we have a question for the disputees: what economic activity have you performed on the disputed territory?
Well, we know that the Philippines, China and Vietnam explored for oil and gas.
We know that Chinese and Philipino people fish in those areas.
And in which territory have they done so and continue to do so.
But how about the rest?
Well… they have "claimed" those territories on maps. Does this count?
Well… they have patrolled some of the territory. How about this?
There is a lot of traffic going through. Any rationale here?
It's close to 100 miles or 40 miles or 50 km or two soccer ball lengths from their respective coastlines. This OK as argument?
But. But. But. They have complained loudly over the years. This useful?
Let's not forget that some of those territories were "acquired" or "occupied" during WWII. Any rights here?
We know. Some countries sent diplomatic correspondence to other countries with "claims". Surely this is good enough, right?
But some of the countries patrol that area. This ought to be enough, right?
But countries do have sovereign rights over that area, right?
But our ancestors farted twice against the wind on the summer solstice thus acknowledging our claim.
Sorry. No. NO and NOOOOOOOO.
Do you get us!?
THIS IS NOT DIFFICULT
Look, this is not difficult. Regardless of what the greedy hands of politicians in different countries want, the territory of the South China Sea is un-owned property. Thus, the principle of homesteading applies. The people (yes people - not country(es)) that perform an economic activity first can claim to be the owners of such territory… and only that territory.
Claiming something is not enough. Patrolling is not enough. Defending that region is not enough. In order to claim ownership, the territory must be in economic use. Thus, only the people that have explored for oil or natural gas, only the countries that have fished in that area and continue to do so, have a valid territorial claim. And that claim is only valid over the territory on which they actually conducted economic activities and continue to do so. Anything else is BS. Period. We explained clearly this point in our article First Come First Served.
It is OK to patrol your territory but not the other way around. Patrolling in the hopes that this will grant you territorial rights is not acceptable because patrolling is not an economic activity!
ENTER THE LAW
But surely now that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague has entered in the game and it is considering the Philipine case, the issue will be settled, right? Not a chance. It so happens that the Court (question, why is that Court is always written with capital "C"?... nevermind…) has no jurisdiction. It is nothing but a bunch of overpaid lawyers playing international "law". The point to consider is this; for any "court" to be valid it absolutely, positively, definitively must have the acknowledgement of both parties in the dispute. It is obvious that China does not recognize this Court, ergo, any dictum emanating from it is worthless!
Look. This is not a claim of country A interacting with country's B property without a previous voluntary agreement. In such circumstances, country B does not need a "Court" to obtain compensation. But in a case where no property has yet been interacted with, yes, you do need the agreement of both parties in order to reach a settlement. Furthermore, such a settlement is conditioned to one or both parties actually exercising economic activities over the disputed territory.
Allow us to explain.
Let's say that China and the Philippines agree to a mediator. In the mediation some lines in the South China Sea are traced over a map. All the territory on the left belongs to China. All the territory to the right, to the Philippines. Done. Problem solved, right?
Not a chance. The agreement between China and the Philippines is an agreement between parties not to cross said line. However, they have done nothing yet in terms of economic activity. That territory is not theirs yet. If a third party, let's say Vietnam, commences economic activity to the left, right or both sides of the line, Vietnam, not China nor the Philippines becomes the rightful owner of such territory.
First come, first served.
The proof is in the pudding!
If you want to own the territory, then commence an economic activity on it. No ifs, buts, perhaps, maybes nor tomorrows. Either put up or shut up.
But what happens if country A scares country B from exercising economic activities on unclaimed territories? What happens if they send the military to drive them out? Then, country A is clearly guilty of interacting with the property of country B (i.e. the territories) without their voluntary agreement. Thus, country A is automatically liable and must pay country B compensation to the full extent of the economic value of all the properties interacted with.
Forcing one person out of a clearly owned property is simply a breach of the key Libertarian principle. Force is not might. Force does not give rights. Force cannot change the Libertarian principle. There is no issue here! The situation could not be more clear.
Countries (and politicians) are actually behaving as pirates in this matter. Robbery or piracy do not grant rights nor privileges. Yet, this is precisely what current "laws" support. So much for current "laws".
See what we mean when we say that Libertarianism actually works in real life? It provides real solutions to real problems. Today. It is not only free markets that we get benefits in a Libertarian system, but the benefits arise from the fact that the rules are so few and so clear that there is no room for dispute.
Yet, current political systems recognize might and robbery, they recognize "political" claims and historical tales. They agree with lying people and lying governments. They provide "moral" or "ethical" support to nonsensical "settlements" and idiotic "agreements". The old saying that states that possession is nine tents of the law is actually correct… in our current system.
And because of this you have a choice. Do you prefer your life to be managed by mumbo-jumbo laws and ethics and morality which waste yours and everybody's time trying to solve puzzling puzzles or by clear cut rules that everybody understands? Just a question… just a question… no need to get upset now…
Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.