Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory and has built up military fortifications on several islands over the last decade.
Some islands and waters in the South China Sea are claimed by several states and islands that surround it, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and self-governing Taiwan, a US ally.
Beijing, through its acts of military fortifications on the island, has stopped fishing and mineral exploration by some of the countries claiming ownership of territory.
Chinese government claims the large portions of the South China sea belong to the Chinese nation saying it has belonged to China for hundreds of years.
The United States’ number one diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the move, described it as “strengthening U.S. policy,” saying that “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. 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,”
Pompeo said in a lengthy statement.
Pompeo said Monday that the US made it’s decision in line with that of a 2016 decision issued by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which sided with the Philippines against China’s assertions that it had historic and economic claims to much of the South China Sea.
That unanimous decision “rejected the (People’s Republic of China’s) maritime claims as having no basis in international law,” the top US diplomat noted.
“As the United States has previously stated, and as specifically provided in the Convention, the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties.”
In the statement, Pompeo also blasted China’s attempts to establish maritime claims inside other countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones.
Pompeo said China “cannot lawfully assert a maritime claim — including any Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims derived from Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands — vis-a-vis the Philippines in areas that the Tribunal found to be in the Philippines’ EEZ or on its continental shelf.”
“China has no claims to Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal both of which fall fully under the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction” — and said
“China has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to (or derived from) James Shoal, an entirely submerged feature only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia and some 1,000 nautical miles from China’s coast.”
“The US rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei’s EEZ, and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia).”
“Any PRC action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters — or to carry out such activities unilaterally — is unlawful,” Pompeo said.
China has now responded. The Chinese Embassy in Washington on Tuesday rebuffed Pompeo’s announcement, calling the accusations “completely unjustified.
“The US distorts the facts and international law … , exaggerates the situation in the region and attempts to sow discord between China and other littoral countries,” the Chinese Embassy said in a statement.
” Washington keeps stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in a region where it is not directly involved in the disputes.”