China’s aggressive naval advances and the string of maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific have pushed the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) into motion in the US.

The Obama administration requested the US Congress to initiate procedures to ratify the international treaty. The UNCLOS has been approved twice by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee but was never put to vote in the Senate. The US, a military superpower, had not ratified the treaty as conservative Republicans objected that the navy’s actions would be constricted and could impinge on the nation’s sovereignty.

The UNCLOS is an international regulatory framework that delineates maritime borders to manage the world’s oceans and marine resources. The US is the only developed country that has yet to ratify the UNCLOS. China claims the South China Sea and the islands within its waters, resulting to disputes with other countries who claim the same islands. Analysts says that if the US signs UNCLOS, it will yield a closer cooperation in settling international maritime disputes in the region through the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).