An worldwide arbitration panel says it has jurisdiction to take on a dispute between the Philippines and China over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Earlier this week, the US navy sailed a warship into the 12-nautical mile zone around South China Sea reefs that China has turned into man-made islands, one of which may soon be equipped with an airstrip capable of handling the military’s largest aircraft. Worldwide law allows countries to claim waters up to 12 nautical miles off territory they control, so China’;s goal here is to claim the water near its new landmasses. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have overlapping claims in the area.
“We oppose in no uncertain terms the illegal occupation and reclamation activities of China in the West Philippine Sea”.
On seven other submissions, including that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to exploit its own territorial waters, the court said it would reserve judgment about jurisdiction until it had decided the merits of the case.
The patrol was the most significant U.S. challenge yet to territorial limits China claims around its artificial islands in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. China has said it prefers to settle the dispute in bilateral talks. Instead, in an answer to a National Assembly lawmaker, Yoon said that the South China Sea issue never came up during the summit.
US President Barack Obama has “everything but the guts” to challenge China’s claims in the South China sea, and its recent warship maneuvers are “bragging about its military prowess at China’s doorstep”, the Chinese ruling Communist Party’s Global Times said in a Thursday editorial.
Separately, the English-language China Daily newspaper reported that Admiral Harry Harris, commander of USA forces in the Pacific, would visit Beijing next week.
Asian and USA naval officers say encounters with Chinese vessels, once relatively rare, are now frequent, even at the outer edges of the controversial nine-dash line Beijing uses to stake its claim to 90 percent of the waterway. China’s move to undertake massive construction to transform at least seven shoals and reefs into islands in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands have ratcheted up tensions.
The U.S. Navy spokesman underscored that US freedom of navigation operations were meant to “protect the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under global law”. This may influence the already lethargic process between China and ASEAN toward a binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea.
China has been dredging and transporting sand to build the islands in the shallow seas just to the west of the Philippines.
Yang also noted that a pair of Chinese ships had monitored the actions of the United States ship and issued warnings. Harris recently stated that the South China Sea is no more China’s than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico’s.
Australia, a key United States ally in the region, expressed its strong support for freedom of navigation this week, while stopping short of welcoming the USS Lassen’s patrol.
Explaining further the process of the judges’ deliberations, the media release said the Tribunal “then considered the limitations and exceptions set out in the Convention that preclude disputes relating to certain subjects from being submitted to compulsory settlement”.