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Pentagon says Hague ruling to determine Asia-Pacific's future

FILE - This May 11, 2015, file photo, shows land reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. A landmark ruling on an arbitration case filed by the Philippines that seeks to strike down China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea will be a test for international law and world powers. China, which demands one-on-one talks to resolve the disputes, has boycotted the case and vowed to ignore the verdict, which will be handed down Tuesday, July 12, 2016, by the U.N. tribunal in The Hague. Ritchie B. Tongo/Pool Photo via AP, File

MANILA, Philippines — The upcoming ruling of a United Nations (UN) arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands will determine the future of the Asia-Pacific region, a United States Department of Defense (DoD) official said.

US Deputy Secretary of Defense for East Asia Abraham Denmark said that the forthcoming decision of the international arbitral tribunal will mark an important crossroads for the region.

"It will present an opportunity for those in the region to determine whether the Asia-Pacific’s future will be defined by adherence to international laws and norms that have enabled it to prosper or that the region’s future will be determined by raw calculations of power," Denmark said at a joint hearing of two subcommittees at the US DoD last week.

Denmark noted that the US wants to maintain the sea lines of communication through international waterways and airways.

The disputed South China Sea is one of the world's critical crossroads as trillions of dollars' worth of goods pass through the region every year.

The Philippines and China are only two of the claimant parties in the contested waters, along with Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia , Indonesia and Taiwan.

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Denmark told the US DoD panel that China vowed not to accept the international tribunal's ruling, which is expected to come out on Tuesday.

The US Navy has patrolled the disputed sea since World War II, which created stability in the region and allowed Asia Pacific nations to prosper, Denmark said.

"It is central to our strategy of strengthening a principled, rules-based order that enables regional stability and prosperity," the US Defense official said.

The US DoD official noted that China has been asserting its claims through occupation by building islands in the Spratly group and placing facilities that could support military aircraft and ships.

Meanwhile, the US is pursuing a whole-of-government approach to resolve the maritime dispute in the region.

"We’ve increased our military presence and we’re ensuring our presence is geographically distributed, operationally resilient and politically sustainable," Denmark said.

Denmark added that the US is also working on increasing the military operations in the region including freedom of navigation exercises "wherever international law allows so that others can do the same."

The US DoD is working with partner nations, particularly members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to enhance their capabilities and capacity.

"Finally, we are engaging China directly to reduce risk… We seek to keep lines of communication with Beijing open and improve our cooperation in areas of mutual interest and to speak candidly and constructively when we disagree," Denmark said.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said that he will hold bilateral talks with China to resolve the South China Sea dispute if the issue remains stagnant in his first two years in office.

READ: Duterte to talk with China on sea dispute if…

"If the negotiation is not moving or there is no wind to force the sail, if it is still stalemate, after two years, and China says do you want to talk bilateral, then I’ll say yes," Duterte said.

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