US gov’t vows to uphold freedom of navigation
THE United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows in a clear signal to uphold freedom of navigation in the resource-rich South China Sea amid reports of Beijing deploying missiles to one of the disputed islands.
President Barack Obama yesterday said they will support the right of all countries to do the same by helping allies and partners to strengthen their maritime capabilities.
“Freedom of navigation must be upheld and lawful commerce should not be impeded. I reiterated that the US will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows,” he said in a press conference at the Special US-ASEAN Leaders Summit in Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage.
ASEAN nations Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing is asserting ownership over a vast majority of the contested area.
Over the two-day summit, Obama said the leaders discussed how disputes between claimants must be resolved peacefully through legal means, such as the upcoming arbitration ruling under the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas which parties are obligated to respect and abide by.
The talks also focused on the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarisation of disputed areas.
“With regard to security, the US and ASEAN are reaffirming our strong commitment to a regional order where international rule and norms – and the rights of all nations, large and small – are upheld,” said Obama.
He told reporters that America’s foreign policy rebalance to the Asia Pacific, including Southeast Asia, will continue to be a priority in his presidency.
“When ASEAN speaks with a clear, unified voice, it can help advance security, opportunity and human dignity not only for the more than 600 million people across ASEAN, but for people across the Asia Pacific and around the world,” said the US president.
A joint statement issued by the leaders at their special summit reaffirmed a firm adherence to a rules-based regional and international order that upholds and protects the rights and privileges of all states.
The leaders also shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law.
Additionally, they pledged to promote cooperation to address common challenges in the maritime domain.
The statement also included their shared commitment to maintain peace, security and stability in the region, ensuring maritime security and safety, including the rights of freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea.
US and ASEAN leaders said they would also protect unimpeded lawful maritime commerce as well as non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of activities.
The Brunei Times