U.S. President Biden backs rejection of PRC’s South China Sea claims

U.S. President Biden backs rejection of PRC’s South China Sea claims

The Associated Press

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration in July 2021 upheld the previous administration’s rejection of nearly all of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) maritime claims in the South China Sea. The United States administration also warned the PRC that any attack on the Philippines in the flashpoint region would draw a U.S. response under a mutual defense treaty.

The stern message from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken came in a statement released ahead of the fifth anniversary of an international tribunal’s ruling in favor of the Philippines against the PRC’s claims around the Spratly Islands and neighboring reefs and shoals. Beijing rejects the ruling.

Ahead of the fourth anniversary of the ruling, then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration expressed support for the ruling but also said it regarded as illegitimate virtually all Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea outside China’s internationally recognized waters.

“Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea,” Blinken said. He accused the PRC of continuing “to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway.”

“The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020, policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Blinken said, referring to a statement by his predecessor, Mike Pompeo. “We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”

Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty obligates the countries to aid each other in the case of an attack.

Prior to Pompeo’s statement, U.S. policy had been to insist that maritime disputes between the PRC and its smaller neighbors be resolved peacefully through United Nations-backed arbitration. The policy shift did not apply to disputes over land features above sea level, which are considered “territorial” in nature.

Although the U.S. remains neutral in territorial disputes, it has effectively sided with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all of which oppose Chinese assertions of sovereignty over maritime areas surrounding contested South China Sea islands, reefs and shoals.

“We call on (China) to abide by its obligations under international law, cease its provocative behavior, and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries, big and small,” Blinken said in the statement.

The PRC has dismissed the tribunal’s ruling as a “sham” and has refused to participate in arbitration proceedings. It continues to defy the decision with aggressive actions that have brought it into territorial spats with Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in recent years.

The PRC claims almost all the South China Sea, through which approximately U.S. $5 trillion in goods are shipped every year, and routinely objects to any U.S. military action in the region.

The Chinese Communist Party has sought to shore up its claims by building military bases on coral atolls. The U.S. has no claims to the waters but has deployed warships and aircraft for decades to patrol and promote freedom of navigation and overflight in the busy waterway. (Pictured: A U.S. Navy warship sails near disputed Beijing-controlled islands in the South China Sea.)