On the afternoon of July 13, the US State Department issued a statement to reject nearly all Chinese claims in the South China Sea (East Sea in Vietnamese). This is considered a tougher change in the US’s South China Sea policy.
AP said that US President Donald Trump has issued a statement dismissing nearly all of China’s claims in the South China Sea.
According to the US State Department’s statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea are completely “illegal.”
The AP said the latest move by Trump’s administration was seen as an attempt to curb China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the region, along with its commitment to recognizing international law.
For a long time, US policy has always emphasized that disputes between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea need to be resolved peacefully and through a UN-backed arbitration tribunal.
However, the July 13 statement by Trump’s administration means that the US now considers almost all of China’s claims in the South China Sea, apart from its waters internationally recognized, are illegal.
US officials added that the change in US policy does not include disputes involving entities rising above sea level, which are naturally considered “territories.”
In this statement, the US State Department completely rejected China’s sovereignty claim over the so-called “nine-dash line” that Beijing made in 2009; rejecting any claim of Beijing’s sovereignty over the waters surrounding Vietnam’s Vanguard Bank. The US also does not accept China’s claims to waters outside the territorial waters of 12 nautical miles from islands claimed by Beijing in the Truong Sa (Spratlys).
The statement states that all actions taken by China to harass the fishing or oil exploitation activities of other countries in these waters, or to conduct such actions unilaterally, are illegal.
The US State Department statement said: “The US is fighting for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Today, we strengthen US policy in an important, conflict-stricken area – the South China Sea. We make it clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea are completely illegal, as well as China’s bullying campaign to control the resources.
In the South China Sea, we strive to keep peace and stability, ensuring the freedom of the seas in a way that conforms to international law; maintain unimpeded commerce flows, and oppose any attempt to use force or threaten to use force to resolve disputes. We share profound and consistent interests with US partners and allies who have long supported an international, law-based order.
The US works closely with its Southeast Asian partners and allies in protecting sovereignty rights over offshore resources, in accordance with the rights of countries and obligations under international law. We work closely with the international community to protect the freedom of this sea, respect our sovereignty and oppose all efforts to impose “the right of the strong” in the South China Sea or the wider region.”
The move took place just four years after the UN arbitration court ruled in favor of the Philippines before China in a dispute in the South China Sea.
In a comment on the website shortly after the US State Department announced the policy, Ms. Bonnie S. Glaser, senior policy advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) based in Washington DC, assessing that US policy on the South China Sea is becoming closer and closer to the July 2016 decision of the UN Arbitral Tribunal over the South China Sea dispute. According to Bonnie Glaser, the above policy adjustment aims to create more legal grounds to object to China’s claims to the waters.
The US announced the change more than a week after the Pentagon issued a statement protesting China’s exercise in the South China Sea. The US Department of Defense’s July 2 statement states the area where the exercise took place includes disputed waters and territories. Conducting exercises in disputed waters in the South China Sea has hindered efforts to reduce tensions and maintain stability.
China’s actions will further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea. Such actions also violate China’s commitments in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) to avoid actions that complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace, regional stability.
According to the US Department of Defense, the exercise is the latest in a series of Chinese actions aimed at asserting illegal claims and damaging China’s Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea.
Such actions run counter to China’s commitment not to militarizing the South China Sea, as well as contrary to the US vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where every country, despite its size or small are guaranteed their sovereignty, not being forced and can pursue economic growth in accordance with the laws and rules accepted by the international community.