In an unprecedented move, the United States on Tuesday (Monday night in Washington, D.C.) officially rejected China’s vast maritime claims in the region as it stands behind the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction, specifically over Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal, among others.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued that China has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region, nor has it offered a coherent legal basis for its “nine-dashed-line” claim in the South China Sea since formally announcing it in 2009.
“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,” said Pompeo.
The US official cited the unanimous decision rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague on July 12, 2016 under the auspices of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that dismissed Beijing’s maritime claims as having no basis in international law.
“The Tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines, which brought the arbitration case, on almost all claims,” he noted.
As specifically provided in UNCLOS, Pompeo said the international court’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties, the Philippines and China being signatories to the Convention. The U.S., however, is not a party to the UNCLOS.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. 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. 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,” he said.
Previously, Washington has refused to be dragged into the South China Sea row by repeatedly saying that claimants should resolve the issue “peacefully,” a far cry from this latest State Department position declaring all Chinese maritime claims illegitimate.
The US’ latest position on the volatile South China Sea came two days after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. called on China to comply with the Tribunal’s award which he described as “non-negotiable.”
“The Philippines, as a 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. The award is non-negotiable,” the country’s top diplomat said.