MANILA, Philippines — Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have committed to uphold the rule of law in resolving the South China Sea dispute, a US Department of State official said.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said all ASEAN countries acknowledge that there are disputed claims in the South China Sea.
“I would say that there is consensus, a commitment by ASEAN and the United States to the rule of law, the Law of the Sea treaty, that that should govern these claims, disputed claims to the South China Sea, and not unilateral actions by one country to develop features in the South China Sea and, even worse, to militarize them,” Sullivan said in a press briefing in New York on Thursday.
The deputy secretary added that ASEAN countries are looking forward to a resolution of the overlapping claims under the norms of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In July 2016, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a landmark ruling, which concluded that Beijing violated its commitment under the UNCLOS when it constructed artificial islands in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
China’s so-called nine-dash line claim over the South China overlaps the claims of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
“We want international law to be followed and for there to be a peaceful process, not a unilateral decision by one country, to resolve those claims, which involve a number of different countries – Philippines, Vietnam, et cetera, Malaysia,” Sullivan said.
Beijing, on the other hand, has been refusing to acknowledge the arbitral ruling and insisted that it has indisputable sovereignty over the contested waterway.
“And our opposition to what the Chinese Government has done in the South China Sea is not because we think we’re making a determination that China does or does not have a claim to a particular feature of the South China Sea,” Sullivan said.
China has reportedly installed anti-cruise ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles and electronic jamming equipment on its “big three” islands in the South China Sea — Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs — which are also being claimed by the Philippines.
Washington has been consistent on its position to reject Beijing’s territorial claims and has been insisting that its military will “continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows at times and places of our choosing.”
The US recently flew nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in the South China Sea and East China Sea as part of “regularly scheduled operations.”
“So there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it, nor about our ships sailing through there,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.
Beijing, on the other hand, considered Washington’s fly-by over South China Sea airspace as “provocative.”
“As for the provocative actions taken by the US military aircraft in the South China Sea, we are firmly against them and will continue to take necessary measures in response to these actions,” Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang said.