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Reports: US to officially reject China’s South China Sea claims for the first time

US, Japan, India and Philippines ships in the South China Sea (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force/Released)
July 13, 2020

The U.S. is planning to officially reject some of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea as early as this week, anonymous administration officials told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.

The officials said the U.S. State Department is planning a document that will serve as the first time the U.S. has officially rejected China’s territorial claims.

“China’s maritime claims pose the single greatest threat to the freedom of the seas in modern history,” states a draft of the paper seen by The Wall Street Journal. “We cannot afford to re-enter an era where states like China attempt to assert sovereignty over the seas.”

The U.S. will reportedly reject claims China has made to territory in the South China Sea that has also been claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

China’s efforts to “harass Southeast Asian fishing or hydrocarbon development, or to unilaterally undertake such activities on its own, in these areas, are unlawful,” the draft of the U.S. document also declares, according to The Wall Street Journal, and also reported by The Associated Press.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” a draft of the statement says. “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law. We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.”

Tensions between the U.S. and China have been intensifying in the South China Sea recently as China is increasing its aggressive behavior and the U.S. is increasing its freedom of navigation patrols in the region.

Earlier this month, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy held a naval exercise near the contested Paracel Islands, which are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. The U.S. Department of Defense condemned the exercise as “unlawful.”

“The military exercises are the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” the DOD said in a statement, adding that the exercises violate the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

“Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to efforts at easing tensions and maintaining stability. The PRC’s actions will further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea,” the DOD noted.

At the same time as China’s exercise, the U.S. deployed two aircraft carrier groups to conduct its own exercise in the region. USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan conducted tactical air defense exercises in its freedom of navigation mission. The warships remained in international territory and conducted their operations in accordance with international law, but China still lashed out.

“We hope the US will examine itself and stop its provocative military acts in the South China Sea, stop smearing and blaming the Chinese side for no reason, stop trying to drive a wedge between countries in the region, and stop creating this tense situation,” a spokesperson said on the Chinese defense ministry’s website.

China has been continuing its militarization of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea with the construction of military bases and other industrial facilities in the region.