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US to China: Cease 'routine harassment' in South China Sea

The United States on Tuesday (US time) urged China to cease its "routine harassment" of vessels from South China Sea claimant countries that are operating in their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

This was among the issues raised by Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the US Department of State, in a statement marking the seventh anniversary of the arbitration ruling that upheld the Philippines' EEZ over China's historical claims in the South China Sea.

Aside from harassment, the US also urged China to "halt its disruption to states' sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve, and manage natural resources; and end its interference with the freedoms of navigation and overflight of states lawfully operating in the region."

It also urged Beijing to comport its maritime claims with international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

"The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020, policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea," Miller said.

On July 12, 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) released a 501-page ruling on the lawsuit brought by the Philippines, declaring China's historical claim over nearly the entire South China Sea as illegal under UNCLOS, which is considered the constitution of the seas.

The arbitral tribunal, however, has no enforcement power.

China has repeatedly said that it does not recognize the arbitral award.

In 2022 shortly after the sixth anniversary of the ruling and after the Philippines called the ruling "final" and "indisputable," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the decision violated international law.

"I would like to state that China’s position on the South China Sea arbitration is consistent and clear," Wang said when asked to respond to Manila's assertion of the ruling.

"The so-called award of the South China Sea arbitration seriously violates international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It is illegal, null and void. China neither accepts nor recognizes it and will never accept any claim or action based on the award. By doing so, we are upholding international rule of law," he added. 

But according to the European Union, in a statement Tuesday,  the arbitral ruling is legally binding and is useful to resolve disputes.

The Delegation of the EU and the embassies in Manila of its member-states — Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Romania, Slovakia (non-resident), Finland and Sweden — released the statement on July 11, the eve of the PCA's decision's anniversary.

Meanwhile, in a tweet on Wednesday, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyong Yu said Australia is reaffirming its support to the arbitral ruling.

"On the 7th anniversary of the SCS arbitral award, Australia reaffirms its support for the decision, which is final and binding on both China and the Philippines. We continue to call for respect for international law, particularly #UNCLOS, for an open, stable & prosperous region," Yu said.

The French Embassy in Manila on Monday expressed concern over the recent incidents in the South China Sea, as it called for respect for international law and the resolution of disputes through a dialogue.

"We are resolutely opposed to any use of force or threat to do so. We recall, in this regard, the Arbitration award rendered under UNCLOS on the 12th of July 2016," the embassy said.

This was after Armed Forces of the Philippines last week said more than 50 Chinese vessels had been spotted in the vicinity of Iroquois Reef and Sabina Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine military conducted an air patrol last June 30 in which it was observed that the Chinese fishing vessels were "anchored in groups of five to seven and no fishing activities were noticed."

Based on earlier Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) flights, the AFP's Western Command said the number of Chinese fishing vessels in the area had increased from 12 in February to 47 on June 12.

While France does not take a position on the territorial claims, French Ambassador Michele Boccoz said on Wednesday that it is within its fundamental interest "to underline the importance of such efforts to maintain a non-confrontational, constructive behavior for regulating international relations."

British Ambassador Laure Beaufils said what happens in the South China Sea also matters to the UK as freedom of navigation and overflight are essential to its security and prosperity and a cornerstone of international maritime law.

“We have a collective responsibility to ensure that the South China Sea is not a testing ground for reckless behavior,” Beaufils said, stressing that the consequence of escalation of tensions in the South China Sea “would have implications for all of us, including, but not limited to major economic stability.”

Indian Ambassador Shambu Kumaran said all countries have an obligation to respect international law and that the ruling of the arbitral tribunal on the case against China by the Philippines must be respected.

As in India’s case, Kumaran said it entered into a similar arbitration case with Bangladesh for the delimitation of their maritime boundaries before the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The tribunal ruled in favor of Bangladesh, but compared with China, Kumaran said India “recognized and implemented the award.”

“All countries have an obligation to respect international law, but perhaps bigger countries have a larger obligation to respect international law,” Kumaran said.

Japanese Ambassador Kuzuhiko Koshikawa called the arbitral ruling a “significant milestone” and vowed Japan’s commitment to defend rules-based order in the region.

Echoing the statement of Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, Koshikawa said Japan is a major stakeholder that has outstanding interest in freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. 

In his statement, Hayashi said the claim by China that it will not accept the award “is against the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, in particular the UNCLOS, and undermines the rule of law as a fundamental value of the international community.”

“Japan strongly hopes that the parties’ compliance with the award will lead to the peaceful settlement of disputes in the South China Sea,” Hayashi said as he renewed Tokyo’s objections to maritime claims in the waters that are inconsistent with UNCLOS and “remains concerned about the current situation.”

'It is ours as much as it is the world’s'

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo welcomed the growing number of countries that have expressed support for the arbitral award, which he said “stands as a beacon whose guiding light serves all nations.”

“It is a settled landmark and a definitive contribution to the progressive development of international law. It is ours as much as it is the world’s. Just as lighthouses aid vessels in navigating the seas, the Award will continue to illuminate the path for all who strive towards not just the peaceful resolution of disputes but also the maintenance of a rules-based international order,” Manalo said.

“We will continue to translate the positive outcomes of the Award into positive gains for our people to secure our legitimate interests in our maritime domain, and to promote peace, security and prosperity in our region.”

Despite efforts by China to undermine ruling, Manalo said that the award “definitively settled the status of historic rights and maritime entitlements in the South China Sea and declared without legal effect claims that exceed entitlements geographical and substantive limits set by UNCLOS.”

“It is now part of international law,” he said.  “Anniversaries are markers reminding us of the trajectory we have taken as a nation and as a people. In the decision to file a case for arbitration, the Philippines opted to take the path of principle, the rule of law and the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

“The Tribunal’s decision affirmed the correctness of that course of action. The Award has since facilitated the plotting of new paths and trajectories, reflecting the rich maritime heritage of our country and our people, firm in the conviction that our rights over our maritime jurisdictions are indisputable.”


Meanwhile, to mark the ruling's anniversary, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday launched a microsite featuring relevant materials and information that led to the victory.

The DFA said that the microsite provides the public a central resource for official information and positions on the award and its contributions to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international law.

It includes the material submitted to The Hague Tribunal made available by the Permanent Court of Arbitration; the statements of the DFA on the South China Sea Arbitration; the legal and geographic scope of the West Philippine Sea; answers to frequently asked questions; and links to other resources relevant to the subject. —with Michaela del Callar/KBK/VBL, GMA Integrated News