US Toughens Stance on South China Sea, Calls Chinese Claims Illegal

Sandra Loyd

The United States on Monday revealed a harder stance versus China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, stating them illegal and implicating Beijing of dealing with the challenged waters as a “maritime empire.”

In a declaration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated there were “no legal grounds” for China’s extensive maritime claims. He officially lined up the U.S. position with the legal result of a secret 2016 international court judgment in between the Philippines and China.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo stated. “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.”

According to the State Department, the U.S. now concerns China’s claim over rocks and reefs in the Spratly Islands, in the southern part of the South China Sea, as illegal, and its maritime claims based off supposed ownership of those features likewise in infraction of international law.

The declaration particularly pointed out Beijing’s persistence on holding financial rights to waters around Scarborough Reef, Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, all of which are declared by the Philippines.

The U.S. likewise declined Chinese claims to Lead Bank off Vietnam’s southern coast, the Luconia and James Shoals which being in Malaysia’s special financial zone, and the waters off the coast of Brunei and Indonesia’s Natuna islands, the declaration stated.

“This is a major departure from traditional U.S. policy in the South China Sea. Prior to today’s announcement, Washington opposed Beijing’s excessive claims over wide swaths of the South China Sea, but officially did not take a position on the individual claims themselves,” stated Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at RAND Corp., a U.S. think tank.

Blended responses?

Formerly, the U.S. had actually prevented taking sides on territorial disagreements in the South China Sea, although it consistently required liberty of navigation and overflight in the tactical maritime area.

While the U.S. never ever accepted the so-called “nine-dash-line” China set as its maritime border in 2009, Washington had actually not clearly pointed out international law when it pertained to other kinds of claims, consisting of Beijing’s analysis of what counts as islands in the South China Sea and their capability to produce special financial zones for the sake of resource rights.

Greg Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Research studies, stated the declaration plainly lined up the U.S. with the result of the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration award that eventually overruled a number of China’s claims to the South China Sea, after the Philippines brought the case to court.

“Washington backed the process of the 2016 arbitral award but never clearly endorsed its substance. Now it has,” he stated. “And so that means that it will not just decry Chinese activities in Southeast Asian waters as escalatory or dangerous, but can clearly say they’re illegal.”

The statement of the brand-new U.S. position comes as China continues to push Southeast Asian countries out of checking out for resources within their waters, through implementation of coastguard vessels, consisting of at the Lead Bank, where it was associated with a months-long standoff with Vietnam in 2015 and seems preparing for another this year.

Protesters in Manila call on China to leave the West Philippines Sea (WPS), the Philippines’ name for the South China Sea, in this file image dated July 22, 2019.
Credit: BenarNews

Pompeo’s hard declaration followed one by his Philippine equivalent to mark the 4th anniversary of the 2016 arbitral judgment that has actually never ever been acknowledged by China, which boycotted the procedures.

“The arbitral tribunal’s award of 12 July 2016 represents a victory, not just for the Philippines, but for the entire community of consistently law-abiding nations,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin stated on Sunday, calling on China to adhere to judgment.

“The Philippines, as law-abiding, peace-loving and responsible member of the international community, reaffirms on this occasion its adherence to the award and its enforcement without any possibility of compromise or change,” Locsin stated.

The Philippine federal government has actually just recently taken a more vital stance towards Beijing. A Manila-based analyst called Locsin’s declaration a determined relocation to sign up the nation’s interest in a judgment it has actually never ever moved to implement under President Rodrigo Duterte.

“The Philippine government simply doesn’t walk its talk,” stated Jose Antonio Custodio, a military historian and a political analyst at the Institute of Policy, Technique and Advancement Research Studies. “In other words, he is Beijing’s surrogate,” he stated of Duterte.

“The Philippines is not enforcing its maritime entitlements in the area and in fact is hesitant to even participate in multilateral maritime exercises there,” Custodio informed BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news firm. “That is because of the strong influence of China on the Duterte administration.”

Locsin’s predecessor, Albert del Rosario, stated that Duterte had actually chosen to “shelve” the award “to pursue his full expectation of loans and investments from Beijing, which did not materialize.”

The U.S. decision to side with Southeast Asian countries on the South China Sea concern is most likely to intensify U.S.-China relations, and get blended actions from the countries included, according to Grossman, the RAND analyst.

“Some countries, like Vietnam and the Philippines, are very likely to be happy with the U.S. move because they have been looking for support. But others, such as Malaysia and perhaps Indonesia … may not be as pleased. Only time will tell,” he stated.

Extra reporting by Basilio Sepe and Dennis Jay Santos in Manila and Davao, Philippines for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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