Anticipating S China Sea ruling

National 2 minutes, 55 seconds


THE United States is calling on the international community to hold China accountable to the impending United Nations tribunal ruling on the South China Sea maritime dispute despite Beijing’s refusal to recognise the case filed by the Philippines.

Colin Willett, deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State, said yesterday the international community must “make it very clear that we all expect China to live up to its obligations” under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Her remarks came amid growing concerns over Beijing’s recent “unprecedented campaign” of land reclamation and military construction on the contested features of the South China Sea, which she claimed “vastly outstrips” the actions of other claimants over the past several decades.

ASEAN member states Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping claims in the South China Sea which is believed to be rich in natural resources, but China claims virtually all of the islands including major shipping lanes.

The international tribunal in The Hague is set to issue a ruling between April and June on the case brought by the Philippines in a bid to invalidate the infamous “nine-dash line” markings used by Beijing to claim “indisputable sovereignty” over almost the entire South China Sea.

While the case doesn’t question sovereignty over land features in the contested waters, the senior official pointed out it will make important decisions about maritime space as well as the rights of claimants with respect to the sea and its resources.

She hoped the ruling, which is expected to clarify maritime entitlements in the South China Sea, can serve as a pivot point to a more constructive diplomatic process that would reduce tensions and open the door to greater cooperation.

“As we’ve noted to Beijing, all eyes are going to be on how China responds to the ruling... If China ignores the ruling and disregards its obligation under the Law of the Sea, it’s setting itself up for further confrontation with its neighbours,” she said.

Although the ruling is seen as a threat to China’s sweeping maritime claims, Willet explained the US viewed the court decision as an opportunity for “a real diplomatic solution” that would pave the way for greater cooperation between the claimants.

“In our view, that case is going to be an important reflection point, not just with regard to what happens in the South China Sea, but more broadly in terms of what kind of order we, in the Asia Pacific, aspires for the region,” she said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month defended the South China Sea as Beijing’s indisputable territory on historical grounds. He reiterated that China has “a right to uphold its territorial integrity and lawful, legitimate maritime rights and interests”.

“At the same time, we are committed to resolving the disputes through dialogue and negotiation in a peaceful way,” he said, adding China and ASEAN countries have the capability to maintain peace and stability in the region.

The minister further claimed the “general situation in the South China Sea is stable compared with other parts of the world” and expressed hope the parties will work together in the same direction towards non-militarisation.

“The South China Sea issue is not and should not become an issue between China and US. The two sides have agreed to have further dialogue on the South China Sea to deepen our mutual understanding. In particular, it’s important to prevent any miscalculation,” he said.

The Brunei Times