China told: World is watching you
(The Philippine Star) - July 14, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – If China wants respect as a responsible global power, it should abide by a UN-backed arbitral court ruling invalidating its expansive maritime claims, Washington said as it reminded Beijing that “the world is watching.”

The US State Department, through spokesman John Kirby, gave the advice yesterday in reaction to Beijing’s announced rejection of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which debunked China’s claim of historic rights to almost the entire South China Sea and awarding the Philippines sovereign rights over disputed areas.

As this developed, US Democratic presidential candidate and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton welcomed the ruling, saying the US “has a deep and abiding interest in the South China Sea and to the free flow of commerce – so critical to our economy – that flows through it.”

In Washington, Kirby said China cannot expect to gain the confidence of its neighbors if it projects an image of an arrogant power.

“The world is watching to see if China is really the global power it professes itself to be and the responsible power that it professes itself to be. The world’s watching this,” Kirby said.

He said a defiance of the tribunal’s ruling is a breach of international law.

“The onus is now on them (China) to meet that obligation,” Kirby said during a press briefing in Washington, with a transcript of the briefing posted on the State Department’s website. “This tribunal decision represents that law and, again, it’s our expectation that all sides are going to abide by it.”

He said signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – including China and the Philippines – should be aware any decision issued by the tribunal is final and legally binding.

Beijing’s threat to defy the order “doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a legally binding obligation,” the State Department official said.

“And it’s the world’s expectation that China will abide by its obligations under this legally binding decision,” Kirby pointed out.

“China should care about abiding by it, because China should care about the fact that the entire world is watching what they’ll do now, in this – in the event of the tribunal’s decision,” he added.

Washington has urged all claimants to avoid provocative statements or actions, saying the decision can and should serve as an opportunity to renew efforts to address maritime disputes peacefully.

Kirby said he was not surprised by China’s immediate reaction when the decision was handed down on Tuesday, as Beijing had already signaled its intention to rebut the decision even before the release of the verdict.

“That they have made these unhelpful comments doesn’t mean that our expectations should change. It is a legally binding tribunal decision, and our expectation was before it was made and is now after it’s made that all claimants are going to abide by it,” he said.

Although the US is not taking a position on individual claims, the official said Washington is against coercion and the use of force or military pressure in settling claims.

“We do take a position on coercion, and part of coercion is the potential militarization of land features that appear to have only one outcome in mind, and that is to press, potentially through force, these claims when those claims ought to be settled through exactly this kind of a process.”

The official stressed the US cannot be said to have no moral authority to speak on the issue since it is not a signatory to UNCLOS.

“It isn’t about expressing moral authority, and I kind of reject the implication in the question. This isn’t about the United States projecting moral authority. This is an international tribunal which came up with a legally binding decision that the United States didn’t influence,” Kirby said.

“We said before they reached it that it would be legally binding; so did the world. Now they’ve reached it; it’s still legally binding, and the world is going to be watching what both claimants do in terms of meeting their obligations on this,” he said.

No source of tension

He also squelched insinuations the US may have contributed to militarization and the rise in tensions in South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.

He said US military operations in the region are meant to protect US national security interests, including the interests of five of its seven treaty alliances.

“We have enormous responsibilities. We have been and remain and will remain a Pacific power,” Kirby said.

“The United States military has a presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power. Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific. We have enormous security commitments in the region,” he said.

He explained the US operates its ships and aircraft in international airspace and international waters, and trains with its allies and partners.

“And those are serious obligations, because our military has a responsibility to protect and defend the United States’ national security interests. And we’ve been doing that for a long time, well before these issues in the South China Sea came up,” he added.

“And I don’t see any change to that presence. In fact, it’s all part of the President’s rebalance to the Asia Pacific, where you have a majority of the US Navy out there as well as many assets from other of the services,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker – chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee – said the PCA ruling was “a rejection of China’s aggressive attempts to control disputed areas of the South China Sea.”

Dan Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, said that while the US now has a broader, more resilient and more productive relationship with China than at any previous point, Washington will not turn a blind eye to China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the US must continue to oppose unilateral actions by any claimant seeking to change the status quo in the South China Sea.

Fil-Am reactions

On Facebook postings, many members of the Filipino-American community  expressed pride at the Philippine government’s accomplishment.

“We won the UN arbitration case. The West Philippine Sea is rightfully ours and no foreign secretary can sell it or negotiate a deal with China around it,” Christina Pastor, editor of the FilAm, said.

Rodney Jaleco, editor of the Manila Mail, lauded the Aquino administration for bringing the case to court. “But it now falls on the Duterte administration to use the decision to uphold PH sovereignty and manage the fallout, because that’s fraught with peril as well as opportunities,” he said.

Walter Lohman, director of the Asian studies center at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, called the ruling a huge victory for the Philippines. He said Duterte, in his dealings with the Chinese, should not give away what the court has given the Philippines. – With Jose Katigbak, Jaime Laude

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with