US toughens its stance against Chinese aggression in South China Sea
Relations between the US and China seem to be in freefall. The two nations are trading barbs over trade, sanctions and control of the South China Sea.
One-third of the world's shipping passes through the area south of China, which touches several Asian nations. In a statement this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its "maritime empire."
His statement was the first time the United States had taken the position that China's claims to the South China sea were "completely unlawful."
China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it.
Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior director for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, joined The World's Carol Hills to discuss the significance of this policy shift and what it means for China-US relations.
Carol Hills: For months, Mike Pompeo has been saying that China is basically acting like the neighborhood bully when it comes to its behavior. But with a statement this week, has the US stance on China's presence in the South China Seas changed? Bonnie S. Glaser: Well, I think that the new US position is really a clarification and a bit of a toughening of the prior US stance. The United States has opposed Chinese coercive actions against neighbors, interference with their efforts to develop oil and gas that are off their coastlines. But the United States has actually never said that those activities were illegal. And so the clarification of this policy is not taking a position over who owns what land features, but it is taking a clear position over the maritime rights and resources and who should develop them. And it's clearly saying that China just doesn't have the right to do so.
Remind us what the Chinese have been doing in the South China Sea. What kind of incursions or what sort of things have they been doing to try to lay claim to it? The Chinese have been, on occasion, sinking fishing boats from other countries. We know that they sank a Vietnamese fishing boat last fall and the Chinese have also been interfering with oil and gas exploitation. And we did see this off the coast of Vietnam, also off the coast of Malaysia. And the Chinese are sending their survey ships and using their Coast Guard vessels to harass and intimidate the oil rigs of other countries. These are the kinds of things that the United States is saying is now illegal.
The US recently sent two aircraft carriers to the region. Is this a significant move? Well, the last time that the United States sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the South China Sea was 2014. So, I do think that it is significant. It is a signal to China that the United States is not going to stand silent while the Chinese are seeking to control the waters and the airspace in the South China Sea.
Politically speaking, why is the US taking this on now? What do you think about the State Department's timing? Well, I think that we've seen increased Chinese coercion against other countries. So I do think it's in response to Chinese actions. But it's also part of a larger strategy to step up pressure on China because of actions that China is taking across the board. We have seen Trump administration tougher policy used recently in Hong Kong, where the Chinese are implementing very harsh national security legislation. Also in Xinjiang, where the Chinese have built reeducation camps and incarcerating essentially millions of Uighurs and also Kazakhs. So, the South China Sea policy is of a piece. It is toughening Trump administration's policy toward China.
If you were to advise the Trump administration right now on this matter in the South China Sea, what would you tell them? Well, I think the Trump administration is taking some of the right actions. They are conducting what's called the freedom of navigation operations to make sure that the waters of the South China Sea are open to all. I support that. And I support this change in policy. And I would advocate that the United States follow through in a way that it will continue to have on board, with them, other countries — because we cannot take on China unilaterally. We have to get the support of other countries. So I would advocate coordination with our allies and with individual countries in the South China Sea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan. All of those countries are claimants. And so if we coordinate with them and we try to together put more pressure on China, I hope that we can persuade China to refrain from engaging what are clearly illegal activities.
America Won’t Allow China to Create a ‘Maritime Empire’ in South China Sea
China has long had territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei over islands, reefs, and shoals in the region. The United States jumped into the fray on Monday, less than a week after China complained about a U.S. naval exercise in the disputed waters.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a statement. “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.”
He cited a July 12, 2016 decision by an international court under the Law of the Sea Convention. The court had ruled in favor of the Philippines and rejected Chinese claims to the waters around the Spratly Islands.
China has denounced the court’s decision as a “sham.” Philippine foreign minister Teodoro Locsin Jr. called the decision “non-negotiable” at a Sunday ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the case.
The United States has previously steered clear of maritime border disputes involving China and third countries, but the Trump administration is now pursuing a “competitive” strategy against the Chinese government in several different areas.
Pompeo’s announcement threatens to bring the United States into direct conflict with China, as U.S. forces are bound by a 1951 mutual defense treaty to help the Philippines defend “the island territories under its jurisdiction in the Pacific Ocean” as well as “its armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.”
The U.S. Secretary of State also claimed that the 2016 decision voids China’s claims to waters off the coast of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.
“The [People’s Republic of China] has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region,” he stated. “Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right.’”
The South China Sea contains an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil, as well as major fish stocks. But its greatest importance is for shipping, as ships carrying around $5 trillion in goods pass through this sea each year.
China has not publicly responded to Pompeo’s claims, but has made its position on the South China Sea clear over the past few days.
“Despite being a non-claimant of the South China Sea, the U.S. desires to stir up troubles,” wrote Yan Yan, policy research director at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, in a Sunday op-ed for the ruling Communist Party's Global Times. “It takes advantage of regional countries' claims to sow discord between these countries and China. It portrays a bully image of China.”
'Won't allow Beijing to treat South China Sea as its maritime empire': United States
The US Secretary of State's remarks have come amid Beijing's aggressive push in the South China Sea and deteriorating ties with countries like Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc.
Beijing's claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful: Pompeo
The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire: Pompeo
Washington: The United States on Monday slammed Beijing for its aggressive push in the South China Sea calling it bullish and unlawful. The US further stated that the world will not allow the Chinese government to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.
In an official statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "China has offered no coherent legal basis for its ambitions in the South China Sea and for years has been using intimidation against other South Asian coastal states."
"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," said Pompeo who acts a prominent China hawk within Donald Trump's administration.
He then added the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.
The US has been vehemently opposing China's territorial claims on the South China Sea by sending warships through the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation in that sea.
Deteriorating ties between US and China
In the past couple of months, the ties between the US and China have further deteriorated over Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, meddling in Hong Kong and persecution of Uyghur Muslim community in China.
China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it, through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year. Beijing has built bases atop atolls in the region but says its intentions are peaceful.
Beijing routinely outlines the scope of its claims with reference to the so-called nine-dashed line that encompasses about nine-tenths of the 3.5-million-square-kilometre South China Sea on Chinese maps.