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
Raising stakes, US brands China claims in South China Sea illegal
Shaun Tandon (Agence France-Presse) - July 14, 2020 - 7:28am

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: July 14, 2020 - 7:34am

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.

July 14, 2020 - 7:34am

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States would treat Beijing's pursuit of resources in the dispute-rife South China Sea as illegal, ramping up pressure on another front.

"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 says in a statement.

The United States has long rejected Beijing's sweeping claims in the South ChinaSea, aligning itself with Vietnam, the Philippines and other US partners in the region. — AFP

July 3, 2020 - 7:28am

The Pentagon says it is "concerned" about Chinese military exercises around a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, noting the maneuvers will "further destabilize" the region.

"The Department of Defense is concerned about the People's Republic of China (PRC) decision to conduct military exercises around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on July 1-5," the Pentagon says in a statement.

The activities "further destabilize the situation" in the area claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan, it says. — AFP

April 30, 2020 - 4:15pm

The Philippines says it strongly protests "the establishment of the so-called districts of 'Nansha' and 'Xisha' under the supposed administrative jurisdiction of its self-declared 'Sansha City'" which would cover parts of the West Philippine Sea.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs says it has protested since 2012 the "unlawful establishment of Sansha City" that includes Philippine territory and maritime zones in the WPS, including the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo de Masinloc.

The Philippines also protests the dseignation of Kagitingan Reef in the Kalayaan Island Group "as adinistrative center for the so-called 'Nansha district'," saying the reef is part of the KIG and an integral part of Philippine territory.

April 27, 2020 - 1:41pm

Sen. Risa Hontiveros has filed a resolution to urge the executive branch to "exert legal and diplomatic pressure" on China over its activities in the West Philippine and to have the regional giant pay for enviromental damage in the area.

"China's sense of entitlement to our seas has caused severe and irreparable harm to our ecosystems," Hontiveros says in a statement on the filing of Philippine Senate Resolution No. 369.

Even if the Senate, the majority of which supports the Duterte administration and its foreign policy with China, adopts the resolution, it is non-binding on the executive branch.

"Hindi tayo kolonya, kaya panahon nang singilin ng gobyerno ang Tsina (We are not a colony so it's about time that we have China pay)," she also says.

In her resolution, Hontiveros says "unlawful Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea are estimated to have caused at last P33 billion in damage annually to marine ecosystems within the Philippines' continental shelf and exclusive economic zone" since 2013, the year that the Philippines filed its arbitration case.

April 22, 2020 - 7:59pm

The Philippines has sent the Chinese Embassy two diplomatic protests, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. says on his Twitter account.

He says the protests are on "1. on the pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy ship in Philippines waters and 2. [on] declaring parts of Philippine territory as part of Hainan province—both violations of international law and Philippine sovereignty."

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