America, Don’t Be Headstrong on the South China Sea Issue

Recently, the U.S. Department of State released a report titled, “Limits in the Seas — China: Maritime Claims in the South China Seas,” which improperly commented on the legal validity of China’s nine-dash line in the South China Sea, and stated that China has yet to clarify relevant maritime claims in accordance with international law.

The nature of this report differs from that of an academic paper because it reflects the official position of the U.S. government; in reality, this is not the first time the U.S. has officially expressed such statements. In a congressional hearing earlier this year, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel criticized the nine-dash line and demanded a clear explanation from China.

It can be said that the U.S. put quite some thinking into releasing such a report at this time.

Ever since the Philippines unilaterally decided to place the South China Sea issue under international arbitration, the U.S. has corresponded through various forms of support. Although it was made clear that the Chinese government will not accept or participate in the arbitration, the U.S. Department of State still issued a statement that supported the Philippines and urged China to accept the settlement of disputes through arbitration. Afterward, the U.S. repeatedly stressed the importance of so-called “international rules,” and fictitiously charged China with “noncompliance with international law,” thereby forcing China to compromise.

Of the issues the Philippines raised for arbitration, there is one category that states that China’s claims of “historic rights” to the waters, sea bed, and subsoil within the nine-dash line are noncompliant with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and calls for the court to rule that China has acted beyond the scope of rights the convention provisions. The Court of Arbitration has set Dec. 15 as the cut-off date for China to submit material against the pleas of the Philippines. Right at this time, the U.S. Department of State makes use of a report to question the effectiveness of China’s nine-dash line, thereby denying sovereign rights proper to China and blatantly drumming up support for the Philippines’ promotion of the South China Sea arbitration case.

The report appears emboldened on the surface, seizing every opportunity to bring up “international law.” However, anyone with a bit of common sense will find the evidence significantly flawed.

The report plays down the concept of sovereignty, but seeks to highlight the provisions of UNCLOS. The U.S. seems to have overlooked the Preamble of UNCLOS, which clearly states that the convention’s “due regard for the sovereignty of all states” is the premise for determining maritime rights of state parties.

The U.S. deliberately evades the fundamental problem with the intention to whitewash the illegal encroachments of the Philippines and other countries on the islands and reefs of the South China Sea, and to seek so-called maritime rights for these countries. The U.S. even tries to use international law to alter history. The convention was adopted in 1982, which means it is nonbinding to pre-convention legal facts, for “law is not retroactive.” China’s historic rights in the South China Sea are time-honored; it does not need to draw support from the convention to prove so. The U.S. has no trouble understanding the reasoning, but chooses to confound right and wrong and mislead the public in order to serve its parochial interests.

However, the U.S. should realize that regardless of the means it resorts to, it will not change the history and fact of China’s sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters; it will not shake China’s determination and will to safeguard sovereignty and maritime rights; it will not affect China’s policy and position on resolving the dispute through direct negotiations with the countries in the region, as well as jointly safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea. The intervention of extraterritorial forces is not only unfavorable to solving the problem, but also will contribute to instability factors in the region.

The U.S. should be objective and impartial and keep its promises of not holding a stance: not choosing a side on the South China Sea issue. It needs to act as a positive factor in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, rather than engaging in willful acts of damage.

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