US Publishes New Reports Condemning China's Claims on South China Sea

"This claim has no legal basis and is asserted by the PRC without specificity as to the nature of geographic extent of the “historic rights” claimed," said the report.
January 13, 2022 | 11:02
US Publishes New Reports Condemning China's Claims on South China Sea
A satellite image from March 2021 shows Chinese vessels anchored at the disputed Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea. Photo: Maxar Technologies/AFP

US government stepped up its criticism of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (Bien Dong Sea in Vietnamese) on Jan. 12, issuing a report that declares “historical rights” a meaningless term, according to South China Morning Post.

The report comes amid ongoing tensions between China and other stakeholders in the South and East China Seas and follows recent reports in the Japanese media that Japanese warships have conducted freedom of navigation patrols near Spratly Islands (Truong Sa in Vietnamese) in a bid to deter Beijing.

The paper is an update of a 2014 study that similarly disputed the so-called "nine-dash line" that forms the basis for much of Beijing's stance, Straits Times cited.

Referencing the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and an international ruling dismissing most of China's claims in the South China Sea, the US State Department said in its report, titled Limits in the Seas, that they "gravely undermine the rule of law in the oceans".

US Publishes New Reports Condemning China's Claims on South China Sea
Chinese coastguard ships in the South China Sea on July 15, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

"The PRC claims “sovereignty” over more than one hundred features in the South China Sea that are submerged below the sea surface at high tide and are beyond the lawful limits of any State’s territorial sea. Such claims are inconsistent with international law, under which such features are not subject to a lawful sovereignty claim or capable of generating maritime zones such as a territorial sea," the report reads.

Such features were cited by Beijing to claim four "island groups", which the State Department study said did not meet criteria for baselines under the UN Convention.

"The PRC asserts that it has “historic rights” in the South China Sea. This claim has no legal basis and is asserted by the PRC without specificity as to the nature of geographic extent of the “historic rights” claimed."

"These claims gravely undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally-recognized provisions of international law reflected in the Convention. For this reason, the United States and numerous other States have rejected these claims in favor of the rules-based international maritime order within the South China Sea and worldwide," the report says.

Alongside Wednesday's report, the 150th in a 52-year series examining the validity of maritime claims around the world, the State Department also released Chinese and Vietnamese translations of its executive summary. Questions are raised among Vietnamese observers over the reason why the US Government published a Vietnamese summary of the report. However, no official answer is given so far.

US Publishes New Reports Condemning China's Claims on South China Sea
A United States Navy warship sailed near Beijing's faisely claimed islands in the South China Sea on May 20. (Photo: AP)

US view on the South China Sea issue

With the release of this latest study, the United States calls again on the PRC to conform its maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, to comply with the decision of the arbitral tribunal in its award of July 12, 2016, in The South China Sea Arbitration, and to cease its unlawful and coercive activities in the sea.

In 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explicitly backed claims of Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea, going beyond the past US stance of challenging China without taking an issue on which countries were right.

The Biden administration contends that Beijing's actions in the South China Sea threaten some US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion) worth of commerce that passes through the region each year, according to South China Morning Post.

During a tour of Southeast Asian nations last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed that the US, along with other countries who claim territories in the South China Sea, would "continue to push back on such behavior".

US Publishes New Reports Condemning China's Claims on South China Sea
Vietnamese spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Le Thi Thu Hang. (Photo: VNA)

Vietnam's stance on the South China Sea

At the ministry's regular press briefing held online on November 18, 2021, Vietnamese spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Le Thi Thu Hang reiterated the country’s viewpoint that Vietnam has sufficient legal grounds and historical evidence to affirm its sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos that is in line with international law.

Vietnam calls on the parties concerned to comply with international law and the 1982 UNCLOS in every activity in the South China Sea, and not take any action that may complicate the situation so as to help maintain peace, security, stability, and legal order at sea in the region, according to Nhan Dan.

On the anniversary of five years since the 2016 ruling, Hang said Vietnam’s stance on the settlement of disputes in the South Sea was clear and consistent. Vietnam backs the settlement of disputes regarding sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction in the Sout China Sea through diplomatic and legal processes, without the use of force or threats to use force, and by peaceful solutions and measures, in accordance with the UN Charter and the 1982 UNCLOS, VNA cited.

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