US vows to challenge China on human rights, South China Sea issues

Published June 3, 2021, 1:32 PM

by Roy Mabasa

The United States has reaffirmed its “deep commitment” to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which the Philippines is a key member, and vowed to challenge China on issues such as human rights and the South China Sea, and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

US Deputy State Secretary Wendy Sherman (Asia Pacific Media Hub)

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman made this statement during the Asia Pacific Media Hub teleconference from Bangkok, Thailand on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, shortly after concluding her three-country swing in Southeast Asia.

“In all of my meetings, I reaffirmed the United States’ deep commitment to the region, to the rules-based international order, to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and to human rights and democracy,” Sherman told reporters.

In her first foreign trip as Deputy State Secretary, Sherman stressed that she specifically chose to travel to Indo-Pacific where the ASEAN with its 10 countries is situated, citing the “region’s pivotal role in shaping the global course of events for generations to come”.

The Southeast Asian region represents 650 million people with the third-largest population in the world, and 60 percent of that population is under the age of 35.

“And that is something the United States welcomes. The United States is proud to have partnered with this region for the past 70 years to create and foster the rules-based international order that gave rise to the unprecedented growth in peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific,” she said.

While noting its “important relationship” with Beijing, Sherman said the US will compete with China in the 21st century, find areas of cooperation but will remain to challenge its major rival on issues such as human rights and the South China Sea.

“The U.S. and China obviously talk with each other. It is an important relationship. As President Biden and Secretary Blinken have said, we have a multifaceted relationship with China. We will compete with China for the 21st century. We will challenge China where we must around issues of human rights and the South China Sea, among others. And we will find areas of cooperation, whether that is perhaps in arms control, global health, and of course climate,” the US official said.

The US, along with several other global powers like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan and the European Union continue to deplore China’s continued activities in the South China Sea that threatens peace and stability in the region.

For more than five years, the Philippines has filed more than 100 diplomatic protests against China for the lingering, incessant and prolonged presence of Chinese maritime and fishing vessels specifically in areas such as the Julian Felipe Reef and Pag-asa islands, all within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. At one point, a total 287 Chinese maritime and fishing vessels were monitored moored in the vicinity of the Julian Felipe Reef.

In July 2016, the United Nations-backed Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague granted the Philippine petition rejecting China’s expansive nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.