U.S – South China Policy update

On July 13, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announced changes in U.S declaratory policy on the South China Sea. The press statement included specific Chinese maritime claims, that U.S considers illegal.
The new U.S position does not alter neutrality on the territorial disputes in the South China area. The opening paragraph says, “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.”

In the press statement, strengthening U.S policy has been described as vital in the South China Sea. Preserving peace and stability or upholding freedom of the seas were one of the things that U.S seeks, opposing any attempt to use force to settle disputes.

Center for Strategic and International Studies said that U.S is ‘more firmly endorsing the substance of a 2016 ruling by a tribunal convened under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’ – as it ruled in favour of Manila’s case against Beijing. The article says China has ‘no basic to assert historic rights’ and tribunal also determined that Spratly Islands or Scarborough Shoal are entitled to the economic zone.

The source also says that China may claim the resources of the EEZ and continental shelf from its southern coasts, because ‘they were not covered by the 2016 award’. The same applies to 12 nautical miles of rocks that are in the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal. However China was said to have no claim to any other areas. The report says:

“Most of the resources of the South China Sea therefore belong to the nearest coastal state (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, or Vietnam). The United States is now explicitly declaring it illegal for China to engage in fishing, oil and gas exploration, or other economic activities in those areas, or to interfere with its neighbors’ rights to do so.”

The new U.S policy endorses the underwater claim of sovereignty, when it comes to Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank. They have been claimed by China, and the tribunal ruled that they are all part of the continental shelf of Philippines – Manila has rights to their resources.

Other underwater features included in new policy are Luconia and James Shoals off Malaysia or Vanguard Bank off Vietnam. The report says that ‘United States considers the entire Chinese base on Mischief Reef illegal’, and the ‘efforts to assert sovereignty over these other locations baseless’.

United States has not modified its position when it comes on territorial sovereignty, but focusing more on maritime rights, which was seen in terms of Scarborough Shoal – the statement declares Chinese interference in that area illegal, even though ‘2016 arbitral award declared that both China and the Philippines are entitled to traditional fishing rights within it’.

The new rhetorical position has been said to not have much effect by itself. The article explains that it could be significant when it comes to ‘the opening gambit in a long-term effort to impose cost on China and rally support for U.S partners’. The report says that this approach will likely extend beyond November, as ‘any future administration will find it difficult to walk back this new rhetorical position’.  

By Julita Waleskiewicz

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