US to China: Resolve sea row peacefully
Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2016 - 10:00am

WASHINGTON – China has pulled out all the stops in vilifying the Philippines for pursuing arbitration to resolve their maritime disputes in the South China Sea, said Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel.

In a speech at the University of Southern California on Friday, Russel said the United States was determined not to let China undermine the interests of other nations with conflicting maritime claims.

“We don’t object to China exercising international maritime rights, but we do urge it to clarify its South China Sea maritime claims consistent with international law and to recognize other countries possess the same rights it exercises,” he said.

Territorial claims are notoriously hard to resolve, and some disputes pre-date the creation of the People’s Republic of China, he said.

Manila filed a case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague contesting the legality of China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

China cites “historical facts” for justifying its claim to 90 percent of the sea, which is also being contested by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia. It has expressed intention to ignore the tribunal’s ruling expected in the coming weeks. 

“We are committed to a rules-based regional order that benefits all nations and we won’t accept the division of the region into spheres of influence,” he said.

Russel said from day one, the Obama administration has been clear-eyed about the potential for both conflict and cooperation with China. 

Obama has had about 30 face-to-face meetings with his Chinese counterparts so far in addition to phone calls, letters and senior envoys to resolve differences and to shape China’s choices to encourage responsible stewardship and contributions to global leadership.

The 1982 UNCLOS covers issues such as who has jurisdiction to fish or drill for oil in any given location. It guarantees freedom of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the seas.

“We don’t ask China to renounce its territorial claims in the East or South China Seas, but we do ask China to renounce unilateral and destabilizing actions that change the status quo at the expense of the other claimants,” he said.

“We don’t object to China exercising international maritime rights, but we do urge it to clarify its South China Sea maritime claims consistent with international law,” he added.

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