US declares China's claims in most of East Sea illegal

(VOVWORLD) - The US on Monday rejected China’s disputed claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea (called the East Sea in Vietnam). 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the United States champions a free and open Indo-Pacific and is strengthening its policy in a vital, contentious part of that region — the South China Sea.

He said the US is making clear 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 the South China Sea, the US seeks 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," Pompeo said.

"The US shares these deep and abiding interests with its many allies and partners who have long endorsed a rules-based international order."

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

In a unanimous decision in  2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention – to which the PRC is a state party – rejected the PRC’s maritime claims as having no basis in international law. The Tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines, which brought the arbitration case, on almost all claims.

As the United States has previously stated, and as specifically provided in the Convention, the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties, Secretary Pompeo said, stressing that the US is aligning its position on the PRC’s maritime claims in the South China Sea with the Tribunal’s decision.

The PRC cannot lawfully assert a maritime claim – including any Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims derived from Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands, Pompeo said.

"As Beijing has failed to put forth a lawful, coherent maritime claim in the South China Sea, the United States rejects any PRC claim to waters beyond a 12-nautical mile territorial sea derived from islands it claims in the Spratly Islands (without prejudice to other states’ sovereignty claims over such islands)".

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). Any PRC action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters – or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is unlawful, said the statement.

"The PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to (or derived from) James Shoal, an entirely submerged feature only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia and some 1,000 nautical miles from China’s coast."

James Shoal is often cited in PRC propaganda as the “southernmost territory of China.” International law is clear: An underwater feature like James Shoal cannot be claimed by any state and is incapable of generating maritime zones. James Shoal (roughly 20 meters below the surface) is not and never was PRC territory, nor can Beijing assert any lawful maritime rights from it, Pompeo said.

The top US diplomat emphasized that the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. He said America stands with its Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law. The US stands with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose “might makes right” in the South China Sea or the wider region, said the statement.