The US Department of State over the weekend emphasized that violating the tribunal decision that rejected China’s nine-dash line maritime claim would be unlawful.
AFP/Bryan Bedder
U.S. says South China Sea ruling legally binding on China, Philippines
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The United States underscored the United Nations arbitral tribunal’s 2016 decision invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea is “final” and “legally binding,” as Washington strongly opposed Beijing’s efforts to assert its “unlawful” maritime claims.

The US Department of State over the weekend emphasized that violating the tribunal decision that rejected China’s nine-dash line maritime claim would be unlawful.

Last July 12 marked three years since the Permanent Court of Arbitration found that China’s claim of historic rights in the South China Sea was baseless.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said The Hague-based tribunal also found China’s activities relating to the construction of artificial islands and the practices of Chinese fishermen violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requirements for the protection of the marine environment. 

“The tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties subject to this arbitration, China and the Philippines,” Ortagus said in a press briefing on Thursday.

“All parties that are a part of this have an obligation to comply with this decision. They should, of course, exercise restraint,” she said.

By advancing the peaceful settlement of these disputes, Ortagus said the decision is a victory for the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific. 

“It is in the shared interest of the United States and other countries across the region to sustain the rules-based order so that each nation can reach its potential without sacrificing its national interest or its autonomy,” she said.

According to Ortagus, China’s militarization of disputed outpost in the South China Sea betrays President Xi Jinping’s 2015 commitment not to engage in such activity, calling it provocative as it complicates the peaceful settlement of disputes, threatens the security of other nations, and undermines regional stability.

“We strongly oppose China’s efforts to assert its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Ortagus said. 

“We urge all states to conform their maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention and to resolve their territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law,” she said.

In a landmark ruling on July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration found no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to a “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea and Beijing had breached the sovereign rights of the Philippines, which brought the case.

China claimed it is a “role model” in observing regional and international rules, insisting that interests shall be protected but Beijing has still refused to honor the arbitral ruling.

China hit the US, calling Washington’s stance “absurd, double standard, hegemonic thinking and ugly hypocrisy.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the US has been a “keen talker” of the UNCLOS.

“Being a non-party to the UNCLOS, the US has been a keen talker of it and using it as a tool to lecture others,” Geng said.

He said China has made clear its position on the South China Sea arbitration on many occasions. 

“The arbitral tribunal itself was established on an unlawful basis. It willfully expanded its power to exercise jurisdiction and make an award, which is null and void. China does not accept or recognize that,” Geng said.

The arbitral ruling was a huge victory for the Philippines and the international community, as it signaled the triumph of the rule of law in one of the most important bodies of water on Earth, the South China Sea.

Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, however, said “the problem we face today is that the award we won has been shelved, resulting in more unlawful acts of intimidation and bullying in the South China Sea.”

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