US warns of SCS code of conduct with China



MANILA, Philippines – With numerous acts showing outright “bullying” of South China Sea claimant states, the United States has said it remains skeptical of China’s commitment to negotiate an effective code of conduct in the disputed waters.

David Stilwell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, expressed doubts over China’s avowed commitment to peaceful diplomacy.

“While claiming that they are committed to peaceful diplomacy, the reality is that Chinese leaders – through the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) navy, law enforcement agencies and maritime militia – continue to intimidate and bully other countries,” Stilwell told the US Senate foreign relations committee.

This comes on the heels of a commitment made by Southeast Asian nations early this year to fast-track a meaningful code of conduct in the disputed South China Sea.

If China continues with its current behavior and its provocative insistence of its sweeping maritime claim dubbed the “nine-dash line,” Stilwell said a code of conduct would be harmful to the region.

The nine-dash line refers to the undefined, vaguely located, demarcation line used by the Chinese government for their claims to major parts of the South China Sea.

Stilwell said a binding code at this time would only enable China to legitimize its “egregious behavior and unlawful maritime claims, and to evade the commitments Beijing signed up to under international law.”

While the Hague ruling of 2016 declared that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over the nine-dash line in the South China Sea, the Chinese continue to refuse to pay heed to it as the Philippines – which won the case – seems unwilling to enforce it.

China’s repeated actions to assert the nine-dash line was also denying claimant states from accessing over $2.5 trillion in recoverable energy reserves, while contributing to instability and risk of conflict, Stilwell added.

“PRC maritime claims in the South China Sea, exemplified by the preposterous nine-dash line, are both unlawful and unreasonable. These claims, which are without legal, historic or geographic merit, impose real costs on other countries,” he said.

“PRC actions in the South China Sea are a threat not only to South China Sea claimant states, or to Southeast Asian nations generally, but to all trading nations and all who value freedom of the seas and the peaceful settlement of disputes,” he added.

Bullying has to stop
Citing the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), signed by US President Donald Trump last year, the state department official said that China was also challenging the international system by its “illegal” construction and militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea.

The ARIA establishes a multifaceted strategy to increase US security, economic interests and values in the Indo-Pacific region.

Through it, the US helps ensure freedom of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the sea. It also led to joint maritime training and operations to maintain free and open access with its Indo-Pacific allies, including the Philippines.?Stilwell, a former defense attaché to Beijing, said the manner by which Beijing continues to bully claimant states is consistent with a previous statement of former Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi in 2010.

“China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact,” Yang was quoted as saying.