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U.S. Officially Rejects Any Maritime Claims By China In South China Sea

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U.S. Officially Rejects Any Maritime Claims By China In South China Sea

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On July 13th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement rejecting any maritime claims by China in the South China Sea.

“In the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce, and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes. We share these deep and abiding interests with our many allies and partners who have long endorsed a rules-based international order.”

As such, China threatens these “collective” interests and this simply cannot stand.

According to the US, “Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right.’”

Furthermore, Pompeo reminded of a statement back from 2010, when then-PRC Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his ASEAN counterparts that “China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact.”

This “predatory world view has no place in the 21st century.”

As per the 1928 Law of The Sea Convention, which China has signed, and a July 2016 of an Arbitral Tribunal, Beijing’s claims were rejected since they allegedly have no basis in international law.

Pompeo then says that the US’ position aligns with the Tribunal’s and namely:

  • 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. 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. In line with the Tribunal’s legally binding decision, the PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal, both of which fall fully under the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction, nor does Beijing have any territorial or maritime claims generated from these features.
  • As Beijing has failed to put forth a lawful, coherent maritime claim in the South China Sea, the United States rejects any PRC claim to waters beyond a 12-nautical mile territorial sea derived from islands it claims in the Spratly Islands (without prejudice to other states’ sovereignty claims over such islands). As such, the United States rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei’s EEZ, and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia). Any PRC action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters – or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is unlawful.
  • The PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to (or derived from) James Shoal, an entirely submerged feature only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia and some 1,000 nautical miles from China’s coast. James Shoal is often cited in PRC propaganda as the “southernmost territory of China.” International law is clear: An underwater feature like James Shoal cannot be claimed by any state and is incapable of generating maritime zones. James Shoal (roughly 20 meters below the surface) is not and never was PRC territory, nor can Beijing assert any lawful maritime rights from it.

Finally, Pompeo said that “the world” would not allow China to turn the South China Sea into its “maritime empire.”

“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.”

This decision by the US goes directly counter to the Obama Administration’s decision back in 2016 not to intervene and remain neutral on the matter.

This is also a follow-up of a report by Chinese state-owned outlet Global Times claiming that China has numerous anti-aircraft carrier weapons in the South China Sea and a response by US Navy Chief of Information that despite everything, two carrier strike groups were present there.

Regarding other countries in the region, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry’s welcomed the US statement, and called for Taiwan’s inclusion in a multilateral dispute mechanism.

“Our country opposes any attempt by a claimant state to use intimidation, coercion, or force to resolve disputes in the South China Sea,” spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.

Philippines Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said claims in the region should be resolved according to the Convention.

“Our position here is we will pursue our national interest and resolving the South China Sea will have to be in accordance with the law,” he said.

Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate comment to make on the US statement.

In Beijing, Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, called Pompeo’s statement “irresponsible”.

“It frequently dispatched large-scale advanced warships and military aircraft to the South China Sea that militarised the region and promoted power logic and hegemony. The US is the destructor and troublemaker to peace and stability in the region,” he said.

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