South China Sea: The US vows to to engage more strongly and support ASEAN to deal with China?

A recent US letter to the United Nations (UN) demonstrates that Washington wants to push the East Sea (South China Sea) dispute between China and other countries to the top agenda next time, according to a comment from the Philippines.

On June 1, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft ordered the letter to be circulated as an official document to all UN members and the Security Council.

Ms. Kelly Craft US Ambassador to the UN

This letter is in response to the CML / 14/2019 note of the Chinese Permanent Mission at the UN on Dec 12, 2019.

In the letter, the US said it is opposed to Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

The United States requires China to once again comply with international regulations on claims, as stated in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to enforce the July 12, 2016 Supreme Court ruling on the South China Sea and stop provocative acts in the region,” the US Ambassador said in her letter.

Time of the letter of the US

Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla, a lecturer at the University of the Philippines College of Law, told BBC News Vietnamese that the timing of the US letter is very important.

On July 12, 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal, established under Annex VII of the UN Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS) 1982, issued the final decision on the South China Sea lawsuit between the Philippines and China.

The ruling was initially hoped by some to pave the way to resolving disputes over the rights to the waters in the South China Sea.

However, Ms. Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla pointed out that the situation from 2016 until recently has faded away.

The impetus from the 2016 court decision is generally reduced, in no small part because the Duterte presidential government does not want to use the Philippine victory for economic and political reasons.”

There are occasional conflicts, most of them with Vietnam around the Hoang Sa (Paracels), Indonesia in the Natuna Islands, and every claimant state in the South China Sea is resolute in their statement.”

However, the recent priority is primarily to try to have the Code of Conduct.”

But Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla said that after the permanent Chinese delegation at the UN sent a note on December 12, 2019, the situation became different.

The Chinese note immediately triggered the diplomatic reaction of Vietnam, the Philippines and interestingly Indonesia, which had strived to avoid.

On Dec 12, 2019, Malaysia had Official Letter HA 59/12 relating to the Submission of its expanded continental shelf in the South China Sea to the Committee on the Continental Shelf Boundary Committee (CLCS).

On the same day, China sent the Official Letter CML / 14/2019 at the UN to oppose the above submission of Malaysia.

On March 6, 2020, the Philippines sent a succession of Official Dispatch No. 000191-2020 to protest the Chinese Official CML / 14/2019 and Official Dispatch 000192-2020 to protest the Malaysian Submission.

On March 23, 2020, China sent a diplomatic note CML / 11/2020 to the Philippines.

On April 2, 2020, the UN’s Secretary-General circulated function No. 22 / HC-2020 of the Vietnam Permanent Mission to protest China’s claims in the South China Sea expressed in two CML / 14/2019 and Official Letter CML / 11/2020.

On April 10, 2020, the Vietnamese Delegation continued to send Official Letter 24 / HC-2020 mentioning the December 12, 2019 note of Malaysia and the Official Letter 25 / HC-2020 mentioning the 10th Letter / 4/2020 of the Philippines.

Stronger return of the US

On the June 1 letter of the US, Ms. Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla was concerned that it happened at the same time, when on June 2, the Philippines suspended the cancellation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the legal basis for the US military presence in the country.

Manila acts pave the way for a stronger return of the US in the region.”

The US letter indicates that they are once again focusing on the South China Sea, sending a message to Southeast Asia that Washington supports against Chinese aggression.”

More broadly, Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla stressed that allegations of Chinese aggression at sea were put under tension with the US.

It is part of a list of complaints about intelligence, cyberattacks, unfair trade, and allegations of Covid-19.”

When sending a letter to the UN, the United States practically placed the South China Sea dispute back on the political stage, while the world became more hostile to China,” said Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla.

China wants to take advantage of gratitude

Meanwhile, from the Australian National University, Professor Leszek Buszynski explained why China has recently sent diplomatic notes to the UN.

It seems that China wants to take advantage of its gratitude in the UN General Assembly, after sending corona virus masks to countries, following the Belt and Road project, providing economic support to Africa and other countries like Laos and Cambodia.”

By the way, they want to nullify the 2016 Court ruling which said China’s claim has no legal basis.”

Working on the South China Sea, and is an Asian security expert, Professor Leszek Buszynski predicted that China hoped the UN would pass a resolution supporting Beijing in the South China Sea.

I don’t think China will achieve that resolution, because the UN General Assembly has many different voices, not all grateful to China.”

America’s most explicit opposition

Ms. Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla, lecturer at Law School, University of the Philippines, commented that the US letter to the UN is very special.

Perhaps the letter is the clearest US objection to China’s demands on the South China Sea.”

I emphasize the word Official, because in the past the US also objected to China’s unofficial stance when it brought the ship into disputed territory.”

Ambassador Kelly Craft’s letter recounts some of the points in the July 12, 2016 judgment of the Arbitral Tribunal regarding the South China Sea, something the US has never done.”

Ms. Jacqueline Joyce F. Espenilla pointed out that with the viewpoint very close to Vietnam and the Philippines, Washington “is in fact showing the weight of influence behind the countries.”

It may encourage smaller countries to be more assertive in countering China’s aggression, forming a united front.”

Much of China’s boldness stems from its taking advantage of regional disunity,” she said.

South China Sea: Chinese ships attacked Vietnamese fishing boats in Hoang Sa again

According to the Vietnamese press, on June 12, a fisherman in Quang Ngai reported to the authorities that his fishing boat was chased, crashed and plundered by a Chinese official ship in the areas near the Paracels. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam confirmed that it knew the news and requested a Chinese investigation.

According to fisherman Nguyen Loc, quoted by Tuoi Tre newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City, his QNg 96416, with a crew of 15, was fishing in Hoang Sa waters on June 10 then a Chinese “iron ship” number 4006 and a motorboat chased, repeatedly hit and damaged and capsized, causing the fishermen to jump into the sea to escape.

The Chinese side later picked up a number of Vietnamese fishermen and returned them to fishing boats, searched, took many fishing gear and seafood on board, beat the captain for refusing to sign documents issued by the Chinese side, before letting the fishing boat leave.

According to Nguyen Loc, the incident occurred in waters off Linh Con Island, Hoang Sa, about 8 nautical miles to the southwest. The information provided by the fishermen did not specify which Chinese ship it belonged to, but confirmed that it was equipped with two guns.

Regarding the case of Chinese ships chasing and crashing Vietnamese fishermen in Hoang Sa, Vietnam exchanged with China, requested an investigation, and affirmed Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels.

On the morning of June 13, responding to Tuoi Tre Online’s question about the incident, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry’s Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said:

In this regard, on June 10, the Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Vietnamese Embassy in Beijing discussed with China to assert Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels, asking the Chinese side to investigate and verify the case information and notify the results to the Vietnamese authorities to continue coordinating to resolve.”

According to the spokesperson, after troubleshooting the incident, on the afternoon of June 12, the QNg 96416TS fishing boat and all fishermen on board arrived safely at the mouth of Sa Ky and Quang Ngai. The fishermen are currently isolated at the Binh Son Medical Center, Quang Ngai according to COVID-19 disease prevention regulations.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the Vietnamese authorities to promptly contact the fishermen for information, coordinate the investigation and verify the case and take necessary measures to communicate with China soon to protect the legitimate rights and interests of fishermen,” Ms. Hang added. (Translated)