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Tensions in the South China Sea

South China Sea issue: International consensus puts pressure on China

14:49 | 17/07/2020

China has utilised its power to encroach on territories and seas of its neighbouring countries, Associate Prof. Dr. Vu Thanh Ca, former Director of the Vietnam Institute of Seas and Islands.

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south china sea issue international consensus puts pressure on china
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China has utilised its power to encroach on territories and seas of its neighbouring countries, Associate Prof. Dr. Vu Thanh Ca, former Director of the Vietnam Institute of Seas and Islands, told Thanh Nien (Youth) newspaper.

Ca pointed to China’s repeated serious violations of international law in the South China Sea (known as Bien Dong Sea in Vietnam) recently, such as its claim of “historical rights” to the “nine-dash line”, construction of man-made islands, ignorance of the rulings of the arbitral tribunal that was established in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and illegal violation, study and exploration of natural resources within waters of countries around the South China Sea, like Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

south china sea issue international consensus puts pressure on china
Associate Prof. Dr. Vu Thanh Ca, former Director of the Vietnam Institute of Seas and Islands (Photo: thanhnien)

He granted the interview after the US affirmed its position on maritime claims in the South China Sea on July 13.

US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.

As such, the United States rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei’s EEZ, and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia),” Pompeo said.

He stressed that any action conducted by China to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters – or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is unlawful.

south china sea issue international consensus puts pressure on china
US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo (Photo: AFP/VNA)

US’s consistent policy

According to Ca, the US has recognised that China’s actions have threatened its interests in the region.

The US’s policy towards China in the South China Sea is consistent as the US always opposes any country that violates international law to monopolise the South China Sea, he further explained.

The US has repeatedly affirmed its interest in maintaining the freedom of navigation and aviation, peace and stability in the South China Sea, and called on countries to peacefully address disputes in accordance with international law, Ca continued.

south china sea issue international consensus puts pressure on china
The Chinese survey vessel, Haiyang Dizhi 8, used for offshore seismic surveys, appear again at 158 km (98 miles) off Vietnam’s coast, within Vietnam’s EEZ in April. (Photo by the China Geological Survey)

In recent years, given China’s escalating violations of international law, the US has increased its criticism and condemnation against China, as well as its intimidation, coercion, and the use of force by Chinese navy, coast guard, fishing boats or military and civil aircraft in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, and the country’s efforts to change the status quo in the waters.

south china sea issue international consensus puts pressure on china
The photo taken on July 4, 2016 showed Chinese ships participating in exercises in the Bien Dong Sea (South China Sea). (Photo: BBC)

The US has also called on ASEAN and China to soon reach the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).

During retreats as well as regional and international forums, the US has consistently protested China’s unilateral actions, use of power to change the status quo and imposition of territory and sovereignty claims.

The US has shown its strong support for the settlement of disputes by peaceful measures without the use of force or threat to use force, and highlighted the observance of international law, especially the 1982 UNCLOS and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), according to Ca.

He spoke of the US’s maritime freedom activities to challenge China’s illegal territorial claims.

Actually, the US’s recent announcement is synthesizing and following its previous statements about China in the waters.

south china sea issue international consensus puts pressure on china
Two aircraft carrier groups, the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, conduct drills in the South China Sea earlier this month. (Photo: AFP/US Navy)

International consensus puts pressure on China

Ca said disputes in the South China Sea comprise island (territory) and sea disputes. The US stays neutral in territorial disputes as they have yet to be settled through the international court. However, sea disputes have been basically resolved by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

 The US’s statement has high legal value as it was made on the basis of the rulings, along with the UNCLOS and other international legal documents.

The US’s statement has caused great impacts, towards benefiting Vietnam and other countries around the South China Sea during the struggles to protect their sovereignty, national rights and interests in the waters in line with international law,” he stressed.

south china sea issue international consensus puts pressure on china
The USS Ronald Reagan (foreground) and the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups sail together in formation in the South China Sea on July 6. (Photo: US Navy via AP)

After the US rejected China’s sea claims, the Philippines and Japan have expressed their support to the US, Ca said, noting his belief that there will be more countries, especially powers, voicing their support for the US’s position.

The international consensus will create huge pressures on China, forcing the country to take cautious steps and think twice before violating waters of other countries, coercing and bullying them.

Ca, however, warned that in the short-term, China may have statements and moves that escalate tensions, and even have threat of war in the South China Sea.

China’s action is temporary as with losses caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, the US sanctions, international consensus and the objection of countries around the South China Sea, China is likely to step back for the long run, at least in terms of tactics, he said./.

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