With new South China Sea policy, US now a defender of Philippines' arbitral award â analyst
In this July 6, 2020 photo, the US Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Mustin (DDG 89), center, and USS Antietam (CG 54), right, sail together.
US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Tarleton

With new South China Sea policy, US now a defender of Philippines' arbitral award — analyst

Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - July 15, 2020 - 11:34am

MANILA, Philippines — Following its new position in the South China Sea maritime disputes, the United States has made itself a defender of the July 2016 arbitral ruling that sided with the Philippines, an analyst said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier released a statement to mark the fourth anniversary of the landmark ruling that invalidated Beijing's nine-dash line claim in the disputed sea. His statement explicitly sided with Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines.

Julio Amador III, fellow at Manila-based think tank Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress, noted that the US explicitly cited the arbitral ruling despite being a non-state-party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"It unequivocally expresses support for the maritime claims of the ASEAN claimants, all of which (Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and even Indonesia) are explicitly mentioned," Amador said in an online exchange with Philstar.com.

With Washington's latest policy declaration in the South China Sea, the Philippines could capitalize on the diplomatic support of its ASEAN neighbors and the US, along with its allies, he added.

"The US now also cares about the coastal states' maritime entitlements, not just the user states' navigational rights, in the South China Sea," Amador said.

This latest development also suggests that the arbitral award would continue to live on even if the present or future Philippine administrations would not actively enforce it.

'Strong message to China'

Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the statement of US Secretary of Mike Pompeo that most of Beijing's claims in the South China Sea are "completely unlawful" sends a "very strong" message to China.

"This sends a very strong message to China that the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have the backing of the US in protecting their exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea," Carpio said in a virtual conference Tuesday.

Citing the UNCLOS, Carpio stressed that all states have the freedom of navigation and overflight in the EEZs and the high seas of the world.

According to Carpio, freedom of navigation and overflight operations are the "most robust and most powerful enforcement" of the arbitral ruling.

"If China persists in its aggressive encroachment of the EEZs of the ASEAN coastal states, then ASEAN coastal states can respond by joining the outside naval powers in their freedom of navigation and overflight operations in the exclusive economic zones and high seas of the South China Sea," Carpio said.

'Carefully crafted'

Gregory Poling, director of Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, described the latest US position on the South China Sea as a "big deal."

"It's carefully crafted to avoid overstepping the 2016 arbitral award and maintains American neutrality on sovereignty," Poling said.

According to Poling, this latest move from Washington would be the first step in a long-term campaign in supporting its partners and highlighting Chinese illegal behavior in the South China Sea.

In the context of the Philippines' arbitral award, Pompeo pointed out that China has no lawful maritime claim over areas the tribunal ruled to be in Philippine EEZ or continental shelf, Beijing's harassment of Philippine fisheries and offshore energy development is unlawful and China does not have a legal claim to Mischief Reef of Second Thomas Shoal.

US Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell reiterated Pompeo's statement that China "has no right to bully Southeast Asian states for their offshore resources."

Stilwell echoed the remarks of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that the arbitral ruling represents a victory not just for the Philippines but also for law-abiding nations.

The US official noted that China continued to dismiss the arbitral ruling as "nothing more than a piece of paper."

"For our part, the United States is resolved to protect our vital interests and those of our allies and friends. We are building our military capabilities. We are vigilant. We are exercising and operating wherever international law allows," Stilwell said in a statement.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 3, 2021 - 8:58am

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.

May 3, 2021 - 8:58am

The DFA protests the illegal presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and their belligerent actions against the Philippine Coast Guard. 

DFA also rejects the statement of Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin that China enjoys sovereignty over Panatag Shoal/Bajo de Masinloc. 

"China has no enforcement rights in these areas... The unauthorized and lingering presence of these vessels is a blatant infringement of Philippine sovereignty," the DFA says in a statement.

April 28, 2021 - 12:24pm

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. orders the filing of another diplomatic protest against China following the statement of a Chinese official on the Philippine Coast Guard's exercises in the West Philippine Sea.

"They can say what they want from the Chinese mainland; we continue to assert from our waters by right of international law what we won in The Hague. But we must not fail to protest. @DFAPHL have we fired off a diplomatic protest? Do it now," says Locsin on Twitter.

April 25, 2021 - 1:08pm

The Philippine Coast Guard sends BRP Malapascua and BRP Francisco Dagohoy (MMOV 5002) — a fisheries bureau vessel manned by PCG personnel — to Pagasa Island in the West Philippine Sea for maritime exercises.

Pagasa Island is in the Kalayaan Island Group of Palawan province.

April 23, 2021 - 10:29am

Two new diplomatic protests have been lodged against China as of April 21, the Department of Foreign Affairs says.

These are in addition to the daily protests over the continuing presence of Chinese vessels in Julian Felipe Reef following reports that at least 160 Chinese maritime militia ships are still in Philippine waters.

"The continued swarming and threatening presence of the Chinese vessels creates an atmosphere of instability and is a blatant disregard of the commitments by China to promote peace and stability in the region," the DFA says.

April 18, 2021 - 2:44pm

The Department of National Defense denounces as "irresponsible propaganda" social media posts claiming that retired and active military officers have withdrawn support for President Rodrigo Duterte over the situation in the West Philippine Sea.

"Such disinformation is an act of reckless agitation emanating from detractors, who have a limited and myopic appreciation of issues," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says.

Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, earlier Sunday also disputed the social media rumor, as well as claims of "'warplanes' from various countries taking off and landing in Clark Airbase." 

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