South China Sea tensions rise as Beijing refuses to back down on its territorial claims



CHINA insisted that its territorial claims in the South China Sea are legitimate and conform to international law, as tensions between the superpower and its neighbours continue to simmer.

The People’s Republic says that the entire waterway up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to them, a claim rejected by an international court of arbitration in 2016. However, Beijing has never recognised this court ruling, saying the court’s resolution runs counter to international law. On Tuesday China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Wu Haitao underlined Beijing’s potion during a speech at the UN General Assembly.

He said: “China’s territorial claims and claims to marine rights and interests in the South China Sea are in line with relevant international law and international practices.”

He added that the 2016 court ruling had negatively impacted the principles of international law and helped destabilise the region by undermining the authority of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He called on China’s neighbours to resolve differences through negotiations based on “the respect for historical facts and international law.”

The South China Sea is a major shipping route for global commerce, with 21 percent of global trade passing through its waters in 2016 alone
China is a major exporting country and views ensuring access for its ships through the South China Sea as a major strategic security issue.

In addition the disputed waters are believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas.

Experts believe that the region has up to 11 billion barrels worth of oil under the South China Sea along with 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Beijing is keen to secure its fair share of these hydrocarbons to meet the demands of its ever growing industry.

Mr Wu Haitao’s calls for peaceful negotiations reflect similar comments made by the Chinese premier Li Keqiang, when he attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Bangkok in November.

In what was seen as a major breakthrough in de-escalating regional tensions, the Chinese premier claimed that Beijing was willing to work with Southeast Asian countries for long term peace and stability.

He said: “We are willing to work with ASEAN, under the consensus that has been reached, to sustain long term peace and stability in the South China Sea, according to the timetable set for three years.”

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been trying for years to thrash out an agreement with China over a code of conduct for the sea.

They have repeatedly accused China of using intimidation and aggressive tactics in its attempts to assert its hegemony and enforce its territorial claims.

These tactics have involved deploying warships, arming outposts and ramming fishing vessels, as well as trying to disrupt joint Vietnamese-Russian oil exploration operations.

The US has repeatedly criticised China for its aggression, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitting that America had not responded robustly enough to Chinese transgressions.

He said in reference to China’s disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines: “We hesitated and did far less than we should have.”

In a sign that the Trump administration has decided to take a much tougher line, the US Navy announced in October that it has drafted in the US Coast Guard (USCG) to help it constrain China’s aggressive expansionist ambitions.

This is the first time since the end of the Cold War that the USCG has been deployed in this capacity.

As part of its deployment the USCG carried out joint exercises with regional partners in October.

In a significant shift, the Pentagon has started to treat China’s paramilitary and coast guard vessels as arms of the People’s Liberation Army and Navy.

In effect this means applying military rules of engagement against Chinese coast guard and militia forces.