Ultimatum: Trump administration rejects China’s claims to South China Sea

FPI / July 15, 2020


The administration of President Donald Trump has issued a multi-agency rejection of the Chinese government’s expansive claims to most of the South China Sea, saying they are illegal under international law.

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Groups steam in formation in the South China Sea on July 6. / Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Tarleton / U.S. Navy

“We are making clear: 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,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement referencing the body of water through which some $5 trillion in global trade passes annually.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said. “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.”

China’s activities have included developing some 3,200 acres of disputed islands and then deploying advanced military weapons on them, including anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles.

“Beijing has offered no coherent legal basis for its ‘Nine-Dashed Line’ claim in the South China Sea since formally announcing it in 2009,” said Pompeo.

The latest policy was issued four years after the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claims to control 90 percent of the South China Sea through a vague, historically claimed nine-dashed line.

The 2016 international court ruling sided with the Philippine government against Beijing that determined China had no historical claims to control maritime territory under the nine-dash line.

“Today we are aligning the U.S. position on the PRC’s maritime claims in the [South China Sea] with the tribunal’s decision,” Pompeo said.

Such alignment means the Trump administration is committed to the view that China cannot lawfully assert a maritime sovereignty claim and accompanying exclusive economic zone over Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands, because the tribunal found them to be within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

The South China Sea also contains vast commercial fishing resources and harbors large reserves of undersea oil and natural gas.

U.S. officials said Monday that the Trump administration’s policy toward the South China Sea is to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of transit and oppose any attempt by China to use coercion or force to settle disputes over the waterway.

“These shared interests have come under unprecedented threat from the People’s Republic of China,” Pompeo said.

“Today we are strengthening U.S. policy,” Pompeo added. “The United States will “reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.”

“Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right,’” Pompeo said.

Pompeo’s statement made clear that the U.S. also disputes any Chinese claim to waters beyond a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea from islands it is claiming in the Spratlys.

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