GLOBAL In Focus Stanley Buenafe Gajete

US declares ‘most’ of China’s maritime claims, unlawful; China says No!

MANILA, July 14 – US Secretary State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced its position on maritime claims in the South China Sea, saying that 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.

In a statement, Pompeo said 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”.

“In the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes,” he said.

“We share these deep and abiding interests with our many allies and partners who have long endorsed a rules-based international order,” Pompeo said.

The Secretary State also explained that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region, as it has no coherent legal basis for its “Nine-Dashed Line” claim in the South China Sea since formally announcing it in 2009.

Trump’s strategy

Political experts in the Philippines believe that the US President Donald Trump administration’s big announcements on China cannot be separated from his efforts to look strong ahead of a very tough election and amid the COVID-19 humanitarian catastrophe in the US.

“More critical perspective would suggest that this is about using China to “look strong” at home, and strengthen his position ahead of a very contentious election where Trump is looking well very vulnerable because of his mishandling the COVID-19 crisis at home among many other things,” Political Analyst Richard Heydarian said.

He also said Trump’s administration is catching up with the gravity of the crisis in China’s adjacent waters in ways that the Obama administration for some reason failed to do so.

UP Department of Political Science chair Herman Kraft sees that the statement made by the US is a direct signal to China that its excessive claims in the South China Sea and its aggressive actions will face more vigorous challenge.

“One cannot help think about how much of this is about President Trump’s attempts to deflect attention in the United States away from the consequences of the COVID pandemic, and the latter’s impact on his prospects for re-election,” Kraft said.

Aries Arugay, also a UP political analyst said it’s all part of the intensified strategic competition between the US and China, and part of the pushback of the US under Trump especially since he is trailing in the polls in the US presidential elections.

Philippine defense

In a statement made by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on July 12 in celebration of the 4th Anniversary of the Issuance of the Award in the South China Sea Arbitration, the arbitration case initiated and overwhelmingly won by the Republic of the Philippines versus the People’s Republic of China is a contribution of great significance and consequence to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea and to the peace and stability of the region at large.

He also said the tribunal ruled that certain actions within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EZZ) violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights and were thus unlawful.

“The large-scale reclamation and construction of artificial islands caused severe environmental harm in violation of international conventions, and large-scale harvesting of endangered marine species damaged the marine ecosystem,” Locsin said.

“Actions taken since the commencement of the arbitration had aggravated the disputes,” he added.

Foreign affairs department also believes that compliance in good faith with the award would be consistent with the obligations of the Philippines and China under international law, including UNCLOS to which both parties are signatories.

“The Philippines, as a law-abiding, peace-loving and responsible member of the international community, reaffirms on this occasion its adherence to the award and its enforcement without any possibility of compromise or change. The award is non-negotiable,” Locsin explained.

China says No!

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Philippines issued a statement yesterday on the recent words made by the Department of Foreign Affairs and said that China’s position is consistent, clear, and firm.

“The South China Sea arbitration and its so-called award are illegal and invalid. China does not accept or participate in the arbitration, nor does it accept or recognize the so-called award,” China Embassy said in a statement.

“China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea will under no circumstances be affected by this award. China firmly opposes and will never accept any claim or action based on aforesaid award,” it added.

The embassy also explained that in recent years, under the strategic guidance of the leaders of both countries, China-Philippines relations have maintained healthy and steady momentum, with exchanges and cooperation in various fields making continuous progress, which serves the fundamental interests of the two peoples and contributes to peace and stability in the South China Sea.

“The two sides have also established the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM), returning to the right track of resolving relevant issues through bilateral negotiation and consultation,” the embassy said.

“It is hoped that the Philippines could make concerted efforts with China in jointly securing the hard-won sound momentum of bilateral relations and upholding peace and stability in the South China Sea,” it added.

National defense call

Philippines’ National Defense department agreed with the position of the international community that there should be a rules-based order in the South China Sea.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the department urged China to comply with the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling, and abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) to which it is a signatory.

“It is in the best interest of regional stability that China heed the call of the community of nations to follow international law and honor existing international agreements,” Delfin N. Lorenzana, Secretary of National Defense said in a statement.

“We continue to push for the finalization of a substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to settle disputes and prevent the escalation of tensions in the region,” he added.

On July 12, 2016, the Arbitral Tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines, which brought the case on almost all claims.

The unanimous decision on the said tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, to which the People’s Republic of China is a state party – rejected the PRC’s maritime claims as having no basis in international law. (By: Stanley Buenafe Gajete)

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