The United States declares most Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea illegal

The United States declares most Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea illegal
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced today, Monday, an official rejection of most Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea, the latest episode in the escalation between Washington and Beijing.

The American diplomat described the move as "strengthening American policy", and stressed that "Beijing's claims of marine resources across most of the South China Sea are completely illegal, as well as a bullying campaign to control it."

"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire," Pompeo said. "America stands with our allies in Southeast Asia and our partners to protect their sovereign rights to marine resources consistent with their rights and obligations under international law." Lengthy statement.

Beijing claims that almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea is its sovereign territory, and over the past several years, it has built military fortifications on several islands.

But there are specific islands and waters in the South China Sea claimed by many of the countries and islands that surround them, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan, which are autonomous.

Beijing has impeded commercial activity, such as fishing or mineral exploration, by some of these countries as it has owned land claimed by China hundreds of years ago.

Late on Monday, the Chinese embassy in Washington had harsh words for Pompeo's announcement, calling the accusations "totally unjustified."

The United States "distorts facts and international law ... exaggerates the situation in the region and tries to sow discord between China and other coastal countries," the Chinese embassy said in a statement.

China also accused Washington of "stirring tension and inciting confrontation" in a region where it is not directly involved in the conflicts.

Gregory Bowling, Senior Fellow of Southeast Asia and Director of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Pompeo's move on Monday was "very important".

Bowling explained that what the United States basically said is that we will remain neutral on questions about who owns any island or rock in the South China Sea, but we will not remain silent about China's illegal water claims, adding that in the past the United States was “cautious” in that matter.

Bowling told CNN that "a lot depends on how" the United States pursues until Monday's announcement, but he described it as a "major diplomatic blow."

"It allows the United States to clearly describe China's activities as illegal, not only destabilizing or unhelpful, but to say that this is illegal," he said. "This helps partners like Vietnam and the Philippines, and it will pressure other countries - Europeans, for example - to get out of the fence and say something themselves."

Pompeo said on Monday that the United States is working to align its position with that of the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which has sided with the Philippines against China's assurances that it has historical and economic claims in a large part of the South China Sea.

This senior US diplomat indicated that this decision unanimously "rejected maritime claims (of the People's Republic of China) as baseless in international law," adding, "As the United States previously stated, and as specifically stated in the agreement, the court's decision is final and legally binding." For both parties. "

In the statement, Pompeo also targeted China's attempts to establish maritime claims within the exclusive economic zones of other countries, regions that extend 200 miles offshore from the shore. Specifically, the top US diplomat said that China "cannot legally confirm a maritime claim - including any EEZ claims derived from Scarborough Reef and Spratly Islands" - against the Philippines in areas that the court found to be in the economic zone Of the Philippines or on its continental shelf. "

He also rejected China's claims regarding Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal - “both fall entirely within the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines” - and said that China “has no territorial or legal claim (or derived from) James Shoal, a feature completely immersed at a distance”. Only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia and about 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of China. "

In addition, the United States "rejects any maritime claim of the People's Republic of China in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Lukunia Shoals (off Malaysia), and waters in the EEZ in Brunei and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia)".

Pompeo said, "Any action by the PRC to harass fishing in other countries or to develop hydrocarbons in this water - or to carry out such activities unilaterally - is illegal."

"This is the crux of this," Zack Cooper, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNN.

"The United States declares its support for the rights of these countries in these areas. Now, if the United States wants to come to support an ally or partner in the South China Sea that is being paid by China, now it has a legal justification to say and clarify that China's actions are illegal from the point of view We looked ... although Pompeo had previously indicated that these are coercive measures by the Chinese, he might not have said that it was illegal, now he can. "

Beijing has established military facilities in the Paracel Islands, known as the Xisha Islands in China, and the Spratly Islands, known as the Nansha Islands in China.

The US military regularly challenges China’s occupation of these features with so-called free navigation operations, in which US warships or aircraft operate in international waters.

China has always described these operations as violating its sovereignty.

The United States has been intensifying these challenges this year, increasing tensions between the two rivals.

Amid these growing tensions - and after China completed naval exercises near Paracels earlier this month - the United States sent two naval aircraft carriers to the South China Sea.

Operating under the name Nimitz Carrier Strike Force, U.S. Tankers, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, "it has conducted several tactical exercises designed to maximize air defense capabilities and expand the range of precision long-range naval strikes from carrier-based aircraft," a U.S. Navy statement said. last week.

This is the first time since 2014, and only the second since 2001, that two US tankers operate together in the South China Sea, according to Lt. Col. Camdor. Sean Proffy, spokesman for the Reagan board.

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