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Raising stakes, US brands China claims in South China Sea illegal

Shaun Tandon - Agence France-Presse
Raising stakes, US brands China claims in South China Sea illegal
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes questions during a news conference at the State Department in Washington,DC on July 8, 2020.
AFP / Tom Brenner

WASHINGTON, United States — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the United States would treat Beijing's pursuit of resources in the dispute-rife South China Sea as illegal, ramping up support for Southeast Asian nations.

It was the latest forceful statement by President Donald Trump's administration to challenge China, which he has increasingly cast as an enemy ahead of November elections.

"We are making clear: Beijing's claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them," Pompeo said in a statement.

"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire."

The United States has long rejected Beijing's sweeping claims in the South China Sea, which is both home to valuable oil and gas deposits and a vital waterway for the world's commerce.

Pompeo's statement goes further by explicitly siding with Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and Vietnam, after years of the United States saying it took no position on individual claims.

"America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law," Pompeo said.

"We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose 'might makes right' in the South China Sea or the wider region."

China earlier this month defended itself against US criticism over Beijing's military exercises in the South China Sea, saying its activities were "within the scope of China's territorial sovereignty." 

Rejecting basis of claims

Beijing claims the majority of the South China Sea through the so-called nine-dash line, a vague delineation based on maps from the 1940s when the Republic of China snapped up islands from Japanese control.

Pompeo issued his statement to mark the fourth anniversary of a tribunal decision that sided with the Philippines against the nine-dash line.

Pompeo said that China, based on the court decision, cannot make claims based on the Scarborough Reef or Spratly Islands, a vast uninhabited archipelago.

The United States as a result now rejects Beijing's claims in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank off Vietnam, Lucania Shoals off Malaysia, waters considered in Brunei's exclusive economic zone and Natuna Besar off Indonesia, Pompeo said.

"Any PRC action to harass other states' fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters -- or to carry out such activities unilaterally -- is unlawful," Pompeo said.

Pompeo also rejected Beijing's southernmost claim of James Shoal, some 1,800 kilometers (1,150 miles) from the Chinese mainland, saying the speck administered by Malaysia was completely submerged by water and therefore cannot determine a maritime zone.

The 2016 decision was issued by a tribunal under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Pompeo noted that China is a party to it and called the ruling legally binding.

The United States, however, is one of the few countries that is not part of the convention, with conservatives opposing any loss of autonomy to a global body.

Friction across fronts

The South China Sea statement comes amid rising tensions surrounding China, including a deadly border clash last month with India that Pompeo called part of a strategy by Beijing to challenge its neighbors.

Trump has also strongly criticized China for not doing more to stop the coronavirus pandemic, news of which was initially suppressed when it emerged in Wuhan late last year.

Critics both at home and abroad say that Trump is hoping to deflect attention ahead of the November election over his own handling of the virus in the United States, which has suffered by far the highest death toll of any country.

Trump, after bipartisan calls in Congress, has also stepped up pressure on China over its incarceration of more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.

The United States last week imposed sanctions on Chinese officials including Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party chief in the western region of Xinjiang.

China on Monday took tit-for-tat action against some of its outspoken critics in Congress, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Representative Chris Smith.

CHINA

MIKE POMPEO

SOUTH CHINA SEA

UNITED STATES

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: November 26, 2022 - 1:48pm

The United States Navy's Nimitz-class nuclear powered supercarrier USS John C. Stennis continues underway in the South China Sea.

The US Pacific Command just reported that it has received "cargo" from support ship USNS Rainier in the disputed waters.

November 26, 2022 - 1:48pm

Palawan Rep. Edward Hagedorn files a bill declaring 3 nautical miles surrounding the Kalayaan Island Group and Scarborough Shoal in West Philippine Sea as marine protected area. — The STAR/Sheila Crisostomo

November 22, 2022 - 7:03pm

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos says the country will ask Beijing to explain its "more benign" account of an incident involving Chinese coastguard taking rocket debris from Filipino soldiers in disputed waters. 

A senior Filipino navy official on Monday accused the Chinese coastguard of "forcefully" seizing parts of a rocket fairing that landed in the waters of the Spratly Islands in the hotly contested South China Sea. 

Beijing insisted the handover took place after "friendly consultation". — AFP

February 28, 2022 - 10:29am

Around 68 foreign vessels were near Julian Felipe Reef and 39 near Union Banks on February 17, satellite image show.

Liz Derr, CEO of the geospatial data provider Simularity, says this at a Stratebase ADR-hosted conference.

In March 2021, over 200 Chinese vessels were sighted near the reef.  — report from News5/Marianne Enriquez

November 22, 2021 - 3:54pm

President Rodrigo Duterte condemns the latest flare-up in the disputed South China Sea after Chinese coastguard ships fired water cannon at Filipino boats. 

"We abhor the recent event in the Ayungin Shoal and view with grave concern other similar developments," Duterte tells the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, using the Filipino name for the shoal. 

"This does not speak well of the relations between our nations and our partnership." — AFP

November 22, 2021 - 8:41am

The European Union expresses "strong opposition" against China's unilateral actions in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.

This statement comes after Chinese coast guard ships blocked and water cannoned Philippine boats transporting supplies to military personnel stationed at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

"In this context, the European Union recalls the Arbitration Award rendered under UNCLOS on 12 July 2016, which found that Second Thomas Shoal lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf," the EU says in a statement.

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