China’s Self-Inflicted Wounds in the South China Sea


Increased aggression from Beijing has sparked more robust responses from Washington and the regional claimant states.

China’s South China Sea gambit is heading toward a rocky phase, the warning signs of which were witnessed on July 13 when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally rejected China’s “historical rights” claims in the South China Sea. Terming the Chinese policy completely unlawful, he added that the international community will not allow Beijing “to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”

Pompeo touched the right chord with Southeast Asian claimant countries in stating that China has failed to provide any credible legal basis for its expansive South China Sea claims, manifested in the nine-dash line. This is also one of the rare occasions when the United States explicitly called for respecting the 2016 ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which found in the Philippines’ favor in its filing against China’s claims.

Pompeo’s statement supporting the Philippines and highlighting the salience of international laws is rather intriguing as the United States itself is not a signatory to the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas) agreement.