US, at East Asia meet, rejects China Sea claims

Pia Lee-Brago - The Philippine Star
US, at East Asia meet, rejects China Sea claims
In this April 21, 2017, file photo, Chinese structures and an airstrip on the man-made Subi Reef at the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130.
CSIS AMTI via DigitalGlobe, File

MANILA, Philippines — The United States underscored its rejection of China’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea in line with the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Award when Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting yesterday.

US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken spoke with EAS foreign ministers and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi of Brunei at the virtual forum and emphasized the upholding of rules-based international order.

The EAS is a meeting of 18 regional leaders for strategic dialogue and cooperation on political, security and economic challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region. The annual forum, led by the 10-member ASEAN, also involves the US, Australia, Japan, India, New Zealand, Korea, Russia and China.

Yesterday, Blinken and EAS foreign ministers discussed supporting the implementation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and addressing pressing regional and international challenges, including the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“EAS is central to the US vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific and peace and prosperity in the region,” he said.

“The United States is ASEAN’s strategic partner and remains steadfast in its support for ASEAN-centered regional architecture at the heart of the Indo-Pacific,” Price said, echoing Blinken’s message at the forum.

“We applaud ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and welcome the strong principles upon which it is based – inclusivity, openness and a region based on rule of law, good governance and respect for international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. These principles are mirrored in the US vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Price said the US is committed to working with ASEAN under the Outlook to advance peace, prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific.

In July, Blinken reiterated the US’ commitment on the fifth anniversary of the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines that invalidated China’s “nine-dash-line” claim in the South China Sea.

The US called on China to stop provocative attacks in the South China Sea as Washington repeated its warning to Beijing that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft will trigger the Mutual Defense Treaty.

The Philippines welcomed the US’ open support and thanked Washington for its reaffirmation with “greater clarity” of the protection to Philippine sovereignty.

More than $3.5 trillion in trade transits Indo-Pacific waters annually. These waters also provide livelihoods for millions of people.

In order to create a more secure region, the State Department said the US seeks to improve maritime cooperation and uphold international law and standards to resolve geopolitical challenges, including in the South China Sea.

Also, ASEAN and the US are working together to promote the sustainable development of maritime resources. They focus on improving maritime domain awareness (MDA) and collaborating on information-sharing best practices, joint and interagency operations, multinational cooperation using the US Department of Transportation’s SeaVision application, advances in space-based MDA technology, country briefs and case studies.

The US had supported a regional study on trafficking and forced labor and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in Southeast Asia, helping ASEAN countries strengthen worker protection and improve regulation in the commercial fishing sector.

Pandemic assistance

On the pandemic front, the US has donated more than 23 million vaccine doses and over $158 million in emergency health and humanitarian assistance to ASEAN member states, including the Philippines.

“We provide these vaccines free of charge with no political or economic strings attached,” Blinken stressed.

He announced that the US intends to provide an additional $500,000 to the ASEAN COVID-19 Response Fund to support the purchase of even more life-saving vaccines.

In the Philippines, the US has invested more than $26.2 million (about P1.3 billion) in the country’s COVID-19 response and donated 6.2 million vaccine doses.

Last Tuesday, the US delivered a total of 3,000,060 doses of Moderna vaccine to the Philippines as part of its worldwide effort to help end COVID-19.

The shipment was provided directly to the Philippines by the US government, with delivery via the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, a global initiative to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

This is the US government’s second bilateral vaccine donation to the Philippines, following its July delivery of 3.2 million one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the country.

The Philippines has now received more than 13.3 million vaccine doses through the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a global initiative run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

US assistance has helped the country implement internationally recognized infection prevention and control strategies, strengthen laboratory systems and case management, and improve communications.

Total US government COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines amounts to over $27.5 million (about P1.37 billion).

Economic aid

To aid in economic recovery, Blinken announced new programs to support ASEAN small and medium-sized enterprises, build public-private partnerships, and help the region’s digital development and green growth.

He said the work builds on the already strong US-ASEAN economic foundations, citing US foreign direct investment in ASEAN countries totaling $328.5 billion as of 2020, making the US ASEAN’s largest source of investment.

The US made a $2 billion contribution to Gavi Vaccine Alliance for the COVAX AMC, which supports access to safe and effective vaccines for 92 low and middle-income economies, the largest single financial contribution for COVAX.

As of August 2021, the US had allocated 80 million vaccine doses from its own supply to support COVAX and partners around the world and encouraged other nations to do the same. US vaccines have already been delivered to several ASEAN member states, including the Philippines.

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