South China Sea remains a top US priority

Published April 6, 2018, 4:05 PM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Roy Mabasa

For the United States government, the South China Sea remains a top priority.

An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea. (REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool / MANILA BULLETIN)
An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Spratly Islands in disputed South China Sea.
(REUTERS/Francis Malasig/Pool / MANILA BULLETIN)

This was stressed by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia Patrick Murphy in a teleconference following his attendance to the US-ASEAN Dialogue held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“This is an important part of the world over or very close to half of the world’s commerce passes through the South China Sea, so it’s in the interest of all countries that disputes there be managed well and effectively,” Murphy pointed out.

He said although the US is not a claimant country, it is a “very interested and engaged country” because it is a Pacific nation. Likewise, it also has a great interest in that part of the world for its commerce, but also in exercising its legal freedoms of navigation and overflight.

According to Murphy, the US welcomes the fact that there is now a dialogue on a Code of Conduct, and that it is inclusive and that all 10 members of ASEAN with China are participating in that dialogue.

At the same time, as an interested party, he said the US is very much encouraged that the process be “transparent, that it leads to a binding, meaningful result in accordance with international law.”

“No one country should bully or coerce their way to results,” Murphy pointed out. “International law provides a blueprint. In fact, the Convention on the Law of the Sea is a solid mechanism many of the countries adhere to. In 2016, a tribunal conducted under UNCLOS issued a ruling on a case between the Philippines and China which provided a lot of clarity. The results of that process are binding on both parties as signatories to UNCLOS.”

Murphy said the US encourages the adherence to the basic principles.

“There is a floor and there is a ceiling,” he said. “The floor is the Declaration on the Conduct, the DOC that was put into place quite a long time ago, back in 2002. That put in place very important principles.”

“So the current discussions, in our view, should not go any lower than that floor, but in fact should be aspirational to put in place results that, as I say, are binding and in accordance with international law,” Murphy added. “And we think ASEAN, as a collective,has a very strong voice, and we encourage ASEAN to express that voice and the adherence to continued principles.”