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US urges China to stop sea harassment, follow law

THE US State Department on Wednesday urged China to adhere to international law, seven years after a United Nations-backed tribunal voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea.

“We continue to urge Beijing to comport its maritime claims with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention,” Department of State Spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement posted on the agency’s website.

China should also cease its routine harassment of claimant state vessels lawfully operating in their exclusive economic zones and halt its disruption to states’ sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve, and manage natural resources, he added.

Beijing should likewise “end its interference with the freedoms of navigation and overflight of states lawfully operating in the region.”

“We will continue working with allies and partners to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, one that is at peace and grounded in respect for international law,” Mr. Miller said.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague on July 12, 2016 ruled China’s claim of historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line was illegal.

China has largely ignored the ruling, calling it void. Aside from the Philippines and China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the waterway.

The European Union (EU) and 16 other countries also renewed support for the 2016 decision, calling it “a significant milestone, which is legally binding upon the parties to those proceedings, and a useful basis for peacefully resolving disputes between the parties.”

The EU reaffirmed its commitment to secure and free maritime supply routes in the Indo-Pacific, “in full compliance with international law, as reflected in UNCLOS, in the interest of all.”

“The EU reiterates the fundamental importance of upholding the freedoms, rights and duties established in UNCLOS, in particular the freedoms of navigation and overflight,” it said in a statement.

The bloc also backed a long proposed Code of Conduct between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, most Filipinos want the government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to form alliances with various countries to defend the country’s claims in the South China Sea, Stratbase ADR Institute said, citing a Pulse Asia Research, Inc. poll on June 19 to 23.

Eight of 10 Filipinos said the Philippines should strengthen ties with like-minded countries “to defend its territorial and economic rights in the West Philippine Sea,” the think tank said in a statement

Seven of 10 Filipinos said the government should boost its military capability, especially the Navy, Coast Guard and the Air Force.

Stratbase said 64% said the government should conduct joint maritime patrols and military exercises with allies, and 61% said the government should allot more resources for external defense.

In the 2016 arbitral ruling, the five-member court said China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by building artificial islands and for failing to prevent its citizens from fishing in the zone.

The tribunal said China should comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and honor the arbitral award.

“The real test is for us to continue in the struggle to actualize this victory,” Stratbase President Victor Andres C. Manhit said in the statement.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez in a separate statement urged China to abide by the arbitral ruling by abandoning areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone that it has occupied and “by ceasing to harass and bully Philippine vessels, including small boats and Filipino fishermen.”

Meanwhile, the Kalipunan ng mga Kilusang Masa urged the government to never allow the South China Sea to be militarized by both China and the US. 

It warned of “catastrophic consequences once political and diplomatic solutions are eclipsed by increasing militarization of the West Philippine Sea principally by China, and secondly by the US, which won’t allow the former to challenge its military supremacy in the Indo-Pacific region.”

“We want the arbitral ruling respected and complied with by China. It is therefore in the best interest of the Philippines and the international community, especially the United Nations, to preserve the integrity of that ruling by keeping the peace rather than have it wiped out by a devastating war,” it said in a statement.

“And for peace to reign in this region, demilitarization is the most applicable if not the only option available to all of us,” it added. — Norman P. Aquino and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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