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Rules (not might) make right in SCS  Acting US Secretary of Defense
The June ASEAN statement represents a sweeping repudiation of the PRC’s illegitimate maritime claims in the South China Sea, including the so-called Nine-Dashed Line, which has no basis in law or history. The implications are profound, reflecting the region’s growing recognition that the PRC’s actions are placing at risk the principles that the free world holds dear.
STAR/ File

Rules (not might) make right in SCS Acting US Secretary of Defense

Christopher Miller Acting US Secretary of Defense (The Philippine Star) - December 7, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — This week, on my first trip to the Indo-Pacific region as Acting Secretary of Defense, I look forward to reiterating the United States’ commitment to a Free and Open Indo Pacific. Over the last four years, a growing number of allies and partners have joined the United States in defending the principles put forward in President Trump’s National Security Strategy – namely respect for sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law – and forcefully denouncing the coercive and destabilizing activities of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.

In fact, this June, the leaders of Southeast Asia came together for an annual summit, where they issued a clear rebuke of the PRC’s actions in the South China Sea. In the strongest statement in recent memory, all 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to language affirming that maritime disputes in the South China Sea must be settled in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The leaders of ASEAN also reaffirmed the importance of upholding freedom of navigation, and urged non-militarization and self-restraint from activities that could escalate disputes.

The June ASEAN statement represents a sweeping repudiation of the PRC’s illegitimate maritime claims in the South China Sea, including the so-called Nine-Dashed Line, which has no basis in law or history. The implications are profound, reflecting the region’s growing recognition that the PRC’s actions are placing at risk the principles that the free world holds dear.

Since January, while countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has sought to exploit the crisis through a series of provocative steps in the South China Sea. Beijing has used its navy, coast guard, and maritime militia to assert excessive and unlawful maritime claims and bully its neighbors. The PRC has conducted live-fire military exercises over disputed territory and waters; harassed longstanding and lawful Malaysian and Vietnamese oil and gas development; sent escorted fishing fleets into Southeast Asian countries’ exclusive economic zones; and continued to militarize its man-made “islands,” breaching its own commitments to ASEAN.

Through these malign activities, the CCP has sought to intimidate ASEAN nations out of access to abundant natural resources, including an estimated $2.5 trillion in offshore oil and gas development, as well as fishing grounds that support the livelihoods of millions of people in the region—at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is subjecting the region to unprecedented economic strain. This is the way of the CCP: might makes right and international commitments and agreements can be ignored when they disadvantage Beijing.

Despite these challenges, the United States stands by its Southeast Asian allies and partners, big and small, in defending a free and open order. To advance our shared vision, together we must build an even more networked region to address shared security challenges and resist coercion and intimidation.

Our counterterrorism efforts in the region are a great example; through my experience in the field, I have seen firsthand how a strong network can bolster our ability to address such a challenge. Accordingly, the Department will remain focused on strengthening our ability to tackle threats multilaterally, as we build the connections we need to push back against PRC coercion.

In July, the United States clarified that South China Sea maritime entitlements must be based on law, including a 2016 ruling by an UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal that is final and legally binding on the PRC and the Philippines.

Consistent with that ruling, the United States explicitly rejects all PRC maritime in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. We also reject all PRC maritime claims that derive from islands in the Spratlys that overlap with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia due to the PRC’s failure to present a coherent maritime claim that is consistent with treaties Beijing has signed.

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. Recent statements from our allies and partners in the region demonstrate their alignment with our policy clarification.

The United States supports this new diplomatic resolution with a continued, stabilizing military presence in the region. Even during the pandemic, the Department of Defense has maintained regular Freedom of Navigation operations, routine naval and air patrols, and frequent exercises and combined operations with our close allies and partners – all designed to preserve access to the global commons for all.

During my travels this week, I will meet with regional leaders, review U.S. efforts to implement our Indo-Pacific strategy, and attend virtually the ASEAN-U.S. Defense Informal meeting and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus. In these engagements, I will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to uphold a rules-based, free and open order. We agree with our close friends in ASEAN that rules make right in the South China Sea, and we applaud them for standing up for whatis right.

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