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Pompeo: China cannot be allowed to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire

06:53 | 01/07/2020

The United States has welcomed the statement by members of the ASEAN countries that South China Sea disputes should be resolved in line with the international law, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo recently tweeted (local time).

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pompeo china cannot be allowed to treat the south china sea as its maritime empire
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gives a news conference about dealings with China and Iran. (Mangel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS)

“The United States welcomes ASEAN Leaders’ insistence that South China Sea disputes be resolved in line with international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea). China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon,” Pompeo tweeted.

The tweet, so far, has received over 8,900 ‘likes’ and 3,000 ‘shares’ after it was posted.

pompeo china cannot be allowed to treat the south china sea as its maritime empire

'South China Sea disputes should be resolved in line with international law,” Pompeo tweeted.

After the 36th ASEAN summit on June 26, a joint statement was issued expressing concerns over the complicated situation in the South China Sea (Vietnam calls it the East Sea).

The ASEAN leaders stressed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation and over-flight above the East Sea, as well as upholding international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, in the East Sea, working actively towards the full and effective implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) in its entirety, and the early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC), consistent with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.

They also laid emphasis on the “importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability, and avoid actions that may further complicate the situation.”

“Pursue the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, while enhancing mutual trust and confidence,” the statement said.

Earlier, Pompeo tweeted on June 2 that the US has sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General to protest China’s “unlawful South China Sea maritime claims”.

CHESSBOARD

China is always advancing its pieces on the "South China Sea chessboard", a senior Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP.

Beijing took advantage of the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s and the SARS outbreak to push its claims, he added.

"If there is a space, they move."

Answering reporters' query about the pandemic’s impacts on Vietnam’s agenda on the negotiations on the East Sea issues, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on June 26 also affirmed that peace, security, and stability in the region and the East Sea, in particular, are the common interest and aspiration of the community, especially the ASEAN.

The summit has reaffirmed the ASEAN’s determination to build the East Sea into a sea of cooperation, development, security, and safety, he stressed.

As COVID-19 has disrupted discussions on the building of a Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC) between the ASEAN and China, he said.

Phuc added that Vietnam and the ASEAN are working with parties concerned to exercise self-restraint, prevent actions that could complicate the situation at sea, comply with international law, build an East Sea of peace, friendship, cooperation, maritime and aviation freedom, seriously implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and accelerate talks on an effective and efficient COC in line with international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.

In recent years Beijing has stepped up its territorial claims in the East Sea by building artificial islands.

In April it officially named 80 islands and other geographical features in the disputed waters.

China unlawfully claims about 90% of the East Sea, including the archipelago of islands, reefs and atolls known as the Truong Sa (Spratlys) and almost the entire East Sea, including waters close to Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan (China).

While China has historically preferred to handle all disputes bilaterally, the resumption of negotiations between Beijing and ASEAN still holds promise for reinvigorating a multilateral framework toward greater cooperation and conflict resolution.

The US is not a party to the UNCLOS 1982 while China and Vietnam are.

pompeo china cannot be allowed to treat the south china sea as its maritime empire
Chinese forces operate a short-range ballistic missile system during exercises in the country's southeast in early June. Source: CHINESE PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY

Cross-strait frictions worsened

According to News Week, the Chinese military on June 28 announced that the People's Liberation Army 73rd Group Army recently conducted a live-fire exercise involving multiple models of aircraft and firepower mobilized off of the country's southeast coast, where Beijing has increasingly asserted its claims to in the East Sea. The drills involved mock targeting of islands and reefs and a senior officer lauded the maneuvers in a statement.

"In the exercise, we conducted the training through day and night, set multiple kinds of targets on land, at sea and in the air, and stressed on the tactical coordination in continuous strikes by multiple projectiles," Zhou Zhirong, a flight commander of the army aviation brigade involved in the training, was quoted as saying.

"The gunship pilots have greatly improved their combat effectiveness in such an actual combat environment," he added.

Further maritime exercises were scheduled for June 30 through July 4, the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration's Hainan Bureau said in a notice released over the weekend informing sailors to avoid the waters around the Paracel Islands (or Vietnamese name as Hoang Sa Islands).

Cross-strait frictions have worsened in recent years as Chinese President Xi Jinping escalates military moves.

Japan and India both back Washington's strategy of seeking a "free and open Indo-Pacific"—an approach developed with countering Beijing's ambitions in mind. While tense encounters have occurred between China and rival nations in the waters of the region, recent clashes between Chinese and Indian troops thousands of miles away at border posts in the Himalaya highlands tore open yet another front.

Though the standoff has yet to be resolved, Beijing and New Delhi officials have vowed to disengage and work through bilateral political and military channels to smooth things over. But as China's overlapping territorial spats intensify, the US has increasingly sought to use them as an opportunity to undermine it and portray the People's Republic as a bad actor.

The US military recently has deployed three aircraft carriers to the Pacific Ocean and has conducted with increasing frequency "freedom of navigation" operations to check Chinese claims to East Sea islands as well as "presence operations" to escort the ships of regional countries operating in waters. Beijing considers this a violation of its sovereign territory while Washington sees it as preserving access to international waters./.

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