US expects China, Philippines to abide by UN ruling

Jose Katigbak - The Philippine Star

Kerry on sea row: Rights of all claimants must be respected

WASHINGTON – Should a UN tribunal rule it has jurisdiction over a case brought by the Philippines against China’s nine-dash claim over the South China Sea, any arbitral decision the court makes would be binding to both countries, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said.

As a matter of international law the United States and the international community expect both countries to honor their treaty obligations, he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a separate meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers over the weekend, underscored the need for countries to respect the rights of one another.

“The US will not accept restrictions on freedom of navigation and overflight or on other lawful uses of the sea. It doesn’t matter if the vessel is a large warship or a tiny little fishing boat. The principle must be very clear – the rights of all nations must be respected,“ Kerry told the ASEAN foreign ministers.

Russel said Chinese President Xi Jinping made an “important commitment” during his state visit to Washington last week when he said China was committed to peaceful and diplomatic resolutions of problems.

At a news briefing in New York before the weekend where he is attending the UN General Assembly, Russel said the US takes no position on the merits of any country’s claims to disputed areas in the South China Sea and strongly believes that all claims by all claimants should be made in ways fully consistent with international law, including and particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Philippines is contesting before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the validity of China’s claim to most of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea. 

Experts are closely watching the outcome of the case which, regardless of the decision, would be consequential to other countries with overlapping claims. 

Russel said another important statement made by Xi at a joint White House press conference with President Barack Obama last week was that China had no intention of militarizing islands or outposts in the Spratlys archipelago. 

“That I believe, offered reassurance and encouragement to China’s neighbors, none of whom want to see a continuation of Chinese large-scale construction on these outposts, let alone the deployment of military assets,” he said.

The US will be discussing in detail with the Chinese “steps that they are taking and will take to ensure that they are in no way militarizing the land features that they have built by dredging sand from the South China Sea,” Russel added.

No to ‘incendiary rhetoric’

In his message to ASEAN, meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all parties in the South China Sea dispute “to increase transparency and predictability of their actions, open lines of communication, and avoid incendiary rhetoric.”

Ban delivered his message on Sept. 29 on the sidelines of the 70th session of the UN general assembly in New York. He also called on claimants to “exercise utmost restraint and to resolve their disputes in a peaceful manner.”

Ban said his meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers took place at a “critical time in world history” when the world body turns 70 years old, and as global leaders have just adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

“These agendas are complementary and share common goals,” he said. “ASEAN should have a stronger ownership of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Kerry, for his part, said that being a Pacific nation, the US is committed to partnership with ASEAN.

“The future of ASEAN and the US are intertwined and the US will continue to support the ASEAN community, especially through the ASEAN economic community, in order to sustain the prosperity of the region,” Kerry added.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, meanwhile, urged the UN and the international community to continue supporting the country’s peaceful initiatives to resolve the maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea.

“With the growing support from the international community in peacefully resolving disputes in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, including through arbitration, the Philippines is hopeful that the final outcome of the arbitration process would pave the way for a settlement of maritime disputes,” Del Rosario said.

He also reiterated the Philippines’ call on the UN and the international community to support the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the expeditious conclusion of a binding Code of Conduct. Pia Lee-Brago


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