US report outlines legal arguments against China’s maritime claims; Beijing rejects US claims – Community News
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US report outlines legal arguments against China’s maritime claims; Beijing rejects US claims

WASHINGTON/BEIJING – A US State Department report detailing the case against Beijing’s extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea has dismissed it as “clearly incompatible with international law.”

“These claims, especially given their extensive geographic and material scope, seriously undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally recognized provisions of international law reflected in the treaty,” the 47-page report concluded.

That treaty is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​1982 (Unclos).

The report, released Wednesday (Jan. 12) by the State Department’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, was seen by Washington as the most detailed yet on the matter.

Not surprisingly, it immediately drew a response from China, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying the report “distorts international law, misleads the public, sows discord and distorts the regional situation”.

The spokesman, Mr. Wang Wenbin, said the US “considers itself a judge of the convention”, although – unlike China – it has not ratified Unclos.

Beijing would work with the ASEAN countries to “create peace and stability in the South China Sea and promote regional prosperity and development,” he said.

China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea are being disputed by several countries in Southeast Asia, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all of whom, analysts said, would likely welcome the report.

Maritime security expert Collin Koh of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said: “Asean countries will be watching this report with great interest.

“The materials captured in the report will be very helpful to further strengthen the position of ASEAN parties in negotiations with China.”

The State Department report is the latest step in a gradual shift from the former Trump administration’s often military-focused approach to confronting China in the South China Sea to a more “political and legal” approach, it said. he.

International relations expert Shi Yinhong of Renmin University in Beijing also said the study would likely encourage Southeast Asian countries contesting Beijing’s claims to stand up to China.

“With the US taking on such a difficult position, countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia will feel a sense of reassurance,” said Professor Shi. Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, but has an ongoing dispute with China over control of the waters around the Natuna Islands.

In Washington, Dr. Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security Chair at the Hudson Institute, told The Straits Times that the report clearly explained the key ways in which China had “exceeded its maritime claims in the South China Sea in a way that would enable Asean members must agree”.

“Perhaps the most important thing is that the State Department uses international law to support diplomacy,” said Dr. Cronin. “This study could be the important legal foundation for muscular diplomacy.”

The report noted that since 2014, China continues to hold claims to much of the South China Sea, as well as to what it has termed “inland waterways” and “remote archipelagos” — all of which are “contrary to international law” as rendered. in Unclos.

“This includes any claim to sovereignty over fully submerged functions such as James Shoal, Vanguard Bank and Macclesfield Bank,” it said.

James Shoal is about 45 nautical miles from Sarawak. Vanguard Bank, also completely submerged, is located in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and is occupied by Hanoi. Macclesfield Bank is also claimed by Vietnam.

The report also rejected China’s claims to sovereignty over features exposed at low tide, such as Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal, which are “completely outside the legitimate right of the territorial sea and not subject to appropriation under international law” .

China’s “baselines enclosing Xisha Qundao (Parace Islands) and its alleged intention to establish baselines around other ‘island groups’ in the South China Sea also violate international law,” it said.

“None of the four islands or archipelagos that the People’s Republic of China considers ‘Nanhai Zhudao’ meet the geographic criteria for straight baselines set forth in Article 7 of the Convention.”

The report also rejected China’s argument about a separate corpus of customary international law, outside the treaty, that justified its direct base claims in the South China Sea.