THE United States has rejected China’s claims in the South China Sea as it decried Beijing’s campaign of bullying against other countries with claims to the vast waterway.
Beijing criticized the US move as inciting tension in the region, highlighting an increasingly testy relationship.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move Monday in Washington as he said “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China are completely unlawful as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.
America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region,” he added.
China claims 90 percent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it, through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year. Beijing has built bases atop atolls in the region but says its intentions are peaceful.
Beijing routinely outlines the scope of its claims with reference to the so-called nine-dashed line that encompasses about nine-tenths of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea on Chinese maps.
The United States has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea, sending warships regularly through the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation there. Monday’s comments reflect a harsher tone.
The Chinese embassy in the United States said in a statement dated Tuesday that Washington’s accusation is “completely unjustified.”
“Under the pretext of preserving stability, (the US) is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region,” it said.
Pompeo said the US is aligning with the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.
“In a unanimous decision on July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention – to which the PRC is a state party – rejected the PRC’s maritime claims as having no basis in international law. The Tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines, which brought the arbitration case, on almost all claims,” he said.
Pompeo said the decision is “final and legally binding on both parties.”
China has repeatedly said it does not recognize the ruling of the Netherlands-based arbitral court.
Pompeo also noted cases of harassment by Chinese vessels on Philippine fishermen in the South China Sea.
“The PRC cannot lawfully assert a maritime claim – including any exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claims derived from Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands – vis-a-vis the Philippines in areas that the Tribunal found to be in the Philippines’ EEZ or on its continental shelf,” Pompeo said.
Beijing’s harassment of Philippine fisheries and offshore energy development within those areas is unlawful, as are any unilateral PRC actions to exploit those resources.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana supported Pompeo’s position. “We strongly agree with the position of the international community that there should be a rules-based order in the South China Sea,” Lorenzana said in a statement.
Pompeo said the US seeks to “preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in the manner consistent with international law, maintain unimpeded flow of commerce and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes.”
“We urge China to comply with the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, and abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas to which it is a signatory,” Lorenzana said.
“It is in the best interest of regional stability that China heed the call of the community of nations to follow international law and honor existing international agreements,” he also said.
Lorenzana said the Philippine government continues to push for the finalization of a Code of Conduct in the South China “to settle disputes and prevent the escalation of tensions in the region.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque maintained that the territorial dispute in South China Sea/West Philippine Sea is not the only basis or the totality of the relations between the Philippines and China.
Roque said China, which does recognize the ruling, is just being consistent in its position just as the Philippines insists on its own claim.
“Let’s just say that we will agree to disagree. Meanwhile, this disagreement is not the reason or the totality of our relations with China. We will proceed, we will continue with what we can continue in pursuing our friendship with China,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Sunday urged China to comply with the ruling which China said was an “illegal and invalid” decision. — With Victor Reyes, Jocelyn Montemayor and Reuters