The United States, with whom the Philippines has a 69-year-old mutual defense treaty, has challenged China's “expansive maritime claims” across most of the South China Sea, which includes the area called West Philippine Sea.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China's claims were “completely unlawful” which diplomatic and political observers say may unwarrantedly spark off military confrontations with Beijing and sanctions against companies as Washington seeks to push back Chinese activity in the region.
Pompeo had referred to China's year-long “campaign of bullying to control” offshore resources across much of the South China Sea was illegal—the strongest and most clear-cut and straightforward support by Washington of a ruling in 2016 by an international tribunal at The Hague.
His call out, which coincided with China's offer to restart talks with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including some members with overlapping claims in the area, aligns US policy directly with the tribunal's ruling that China had violated international law with its actions.
Four years ago, on July 12, 2016, an arbitral tribunal, constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, in which the People's Republic of China was a party, shot down Beijing's claims, including its nine-dash line. This undefined, vaguely located demarcation line indicates more than 80 percent of the waters in the South China Sea which China is claiming as part of its territory.
China, which did not participate in the litigation, has refused the tribunal’s decision.
We take it that ASEAN members, like Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, and the Philippines, must have been pleased with Washington's announcement opposing Beijing's sovereignty over maritime areas round the contested islands, reefs, atolls and shoals.
These countries for years have been grumbling about the efforts of their giant neighbor to control maritime navigation in the disputed areas, which include Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, which fall under the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines, and James Shoal, which is 50 nautical miles from Malaysia.
With Chinese militarization of the vast sea, Pompeo's latest pronouncement must be most reassuring to US allies in the region. While he has not been blunt on US military aid, he leaves open the possibility in the view of experts, that Washington would come to their defense should a larger standoff arise in the area.
We keep the faith that China, like its neighbors in the region, is convinced that the peace and stability in the area must be strengthened and preserved, consistent with the dictates of international law, without the need to use military might to resolve controversies.