THE United States sent a guided missile destroyer on a freedom of navigation operation near Kagitingan Reef in the South China Sea even as a Taiwanese group of lawyers filed a motion for intervention involving the country’s arbitration case against China.
The US defense department spokesman Bill Urban said Tuesday the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef to “challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea.”
“These excessive maritime claims are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention in that they purport to restrict the navigation rights that the United States and all states are entitled to exercise,” Voice of America quoted Urban as saying.
China responded with anger Tuesday morning, with foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang telling a daily news briefing that the ship entered Chinese waters illegally and that the move threatened peace and stability in the region.
China has built a 10,000-foot runway and other military facilities on the disputed island.
This operation marks the third time in less than a year that the US has conducted what it calls a freedom of navigation operation to challenge controversial territorial claims that China has made over islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing rejects the operations and claims that the disputes have been exaggerated.
Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said it has yet to see a copy of the plea of the Taiwan government-linked Chinese Society of International Law submitted to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
“I have to check this with our concerned office,” DFA spokesperson Charles Jose said in a text message, when asked for comment.
The unusual submission emerged just as judges at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague are poised to rule on the Philippines’ landmark case, brought under the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The move could delay the judges’ ruling, now expected within two months, and potentially complicates worsening territorial disputes roiling across the vital trade route.
The UN tribunal decision will have a significant impact on China and its ties with other claimant states in the South China Sea.
The case has been before the arbitration tribunal since January 2013, when the Philippines unilaterally initiated arbitration against China, with regard to the latter’s claims over much of South China Sea.
A report that last month, the judges allowed written evidence from the government-linked Chinese (Taiwan) Society of International Law, even though Taiwan is neither a member of the United Nations, nor a signatory to UNCLOS.
The court, the report said, is reviewing several hundred pages of evidence from Taiwan, and the judges have sought further information from the Philippines and China.
China accused the Philippines in using the case to negate China’s territorial sovereignty, as Beijing insisted that it will not recognize the ruling of the case.
“Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait all have a responsibility to jointly protect the ancestral property of the Chinese people,” the ministry said.
The Taiwanese group, which is technically operating as a private body, has close ties to Taipei, including President Ma Ying-jeou, who once headed the institution and still remains on the board.
Ma staged a high-profile visit to Itu Aba in late January -- one of several events orchestrated by Taiwan to push its claimed status as an island.
A spokesman for Ma claimed the submission was not made on behalf of the Taiwan government, but its findings were consistent with Taipei’s official stance.
While the society’s arguments might aid China’s position, Beijing is likely to be wary of any move by the judges to bolster Taiwan’s standing in the international community, analysts said.
Chinese officials have repeatedly challenged the court’s jurisdiction and the rights of the Philippines to bring the case, refusing to participate.
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