Washington – US President Joseph Biden has flatly rejected China’s wide-ranging claims in the hotly-contested West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea).
Under its controversial nine-dash line theory, China is laying claim to some 90 percent of the WPS representing its “historical claims” but which was rejected by several Western nations citing the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference (Unclos).
The Biden administration’s posture was relayed by State Secretary Antony Blinken last week as the Philippines marked the fifth anniversary of its legal victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague against China.
China has never recognized the arbitral court’s July 2016 ruling.
At the same time, Blinken warned China that any attack on the Philippines in the WPS would merit an appropriate response citing the existing US-RP mutual defense treaty.
“Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea,” Blinken said as he accused China of continuing to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian countries in the area, threatening freedom of navigation in the critical throughway.
Aside from the Philippines, the other claimant countries in the resources-rich WPS, through which some $5 trillion in goods pass yearly, are Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
This declaration in effect ratifies the Trump administration’s earlier rejection of China’s “illegitimate” maritime claims in the WPS which are outside of its internationally-recognized waters, as enunciated by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year.
“We call on China to abide by its obligations under international law, cease its provocative behavior and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries big and small,” Blinken was quoted in reports as saying.
China branded the ruling by the arbitral court as a “sham” and has refused to participate in arbitration proceedings. It persists with its aggressive actions in the WPS which has resulted in numerous confrontations on the high seas with the other claimant countries.
While the US has no claims in the WPS, it has frequently deployed its warships and airplanes to patrol and promote freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
Photo: The New York Times