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

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
With new South China Sea policy, US now a defender of Philippines' arbitral award � 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

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.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 28, 2023 - 12:01pm

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.

September 28, 2023 - 12:01pm

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources conducts an aerial maritime inspection over Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc on Thursday, according to a report of PTV.

PTV says BFAR is checking if the southeast portion of Bajo de Mansinloc remains free from illegal and hazardous floating barriers.

Earlier this week, the Philippine Coast removed the chains surrounding the entrance of Bajo de Masinloc installed by the China Coast Guard. — PTV

September 25, 2023 - 3:02pm

The National Security Council condemns the installation of the floating barriers of the China Coast Guard in Bajo de Masinloc, PTV reports on Monday.

“It ruled categorically that such action by the PRC violated the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen in the shoal who have been fishing there for centuries," NSC Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya says.

"Any State that prevents them from doing artisanal fishing there violates UNCLOS and international law, in general,” he adds.

September 22, 2023 - 2:33pm

PTV reports that BRP Antonio Luna of the Philippine Navy and HMCS Ottawa of the Royal Canadian Navy conducted a joint sail in the West Philippine Sea on Sept. 21.

“The joint sail is part of the Philippine Navy's regular engagements with its partners in the Philippines' maritime zones. Bravo Zulu to all the personnel of both ships and those who planned this activity," Ltc Enrico Gil Ileto, Public Affairs AFP chief says.


July 21, 2023 - 3:49pm

Ahead of the second State of the Nation Address of President Ferdinand Marcis Jr, the descendants of the Bai sa Condor and  Anta sa Tebouk, on behalf of the Iranun in the Philippines composed of 16 sultans, formally declares ownership of the  Spratly Islands and the Scarborough Shoals as patrimony from their ancestors. 

The declaration of ownership is led by Sultan Tomas Reyes Cabili, Jr. as part of the advocacy of the Tomas Ll. Cabili  Foundation (TLC Foundation).

"TLC Foundation is doing this for our country’s sake as a whole on our claim for what is ours. Not just for our Muslim brothers and the Moro Origins of Mindanao (IRANUN), BUT for all the Filipinos - and the next generations to come. All the Philippines’ descendants of the Iranunis unfurling the historical dimension of the Spratlys and the ScarboroughShoals to strengthen the Philippines' claim on them and complement the theoretical frameworks already presented in the United Nations," Cabili says.

July 5, 2023 - 10:47am

Raymond Powell, project lead at the Gordion Knot Center for National Security Innovation, tweets that China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels "maneuvered dangerously close" to two Philippine Coast Guard ships on a resupply mission at Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea last week.

In a tweet, Powell identifies the ships as BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua. He says these were escorting a small-boat resupply mission to the Philippines' outpost aboard BRP Sierra Madre and were met by an armada of CCG and militia ships, as well as a possible navy vessel.

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