MANILA, Oct 18, 2019, PhilStar. Beijing’s provocative actions in the disputed South China Sea prevent Southeast Asian nations from accessing resources in the area, a US Department of State official said. David Stilwell, assistant secretary of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea is unlawful and unreasonable, reported The Philippine Star.
“Through repeated provocative actions to assert the nine-dashed line, Beijing is inhibiting ASEAN members from accessing over $2.5 trillion in recoverable energy reserves, while contributing to instability and the risk of conflict,” Stilwell told the US Senate panel Wednesday.
The US Department of State official added that Beijing’s expansive claims over the contested waterway are without legal, historic or geographic merit.
In July 2016, the United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration issued a landmark ruling that invalidated Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line claim.
China, however, refused to acknowledge the arbitral ruling and insisted indisputable sovereignty over South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea.
Stilwell also pointed out that China’s maritime claims impose “real costs” on other countries transiting through the disputed waters.
Washington remains concerned over the sincerity of China on negotiating a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) with ASEAN member-states, including the Philippines.
“While claiming that they are committed to peaceful diplomacy, the reality is that Chinese leaders – through the PLA navy, law enforcement agencies, and maritime militia – continue to intimidate and bully other countries,” Stilwell said.
Earlier this year, hundreds of Chinese naval, coast guard and fishing vessels have been deployed in the vicinity of Pag-asa Island, one of the largest features in the Spratlys.
The Chinese vessels have been circling Pag-asa Island in response to the Philippine government’s efforts to rehabilitate facilities on the island, which is under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Kalayaan in Palawan province.
China has also been harassing Vietnamese assets around Vanguard Bank in the South China Sea.
“If it is used by (China) to legitimize its egregious behavior and unlawful maritime claims, and to evade the commitments Beijing signed up to under international law, a Code of Conduct would be harmful to the region, and to all who value freedom of the seas,” Stilwell said.
Citing the US Asia Reassurance Act of 2018, Stilwell stressed that Washington will continue to ensure freedom of navigation, overflight and other lawful uses of the sea.
“We work with Indo-Pacific allies and partners to conduct joint maritime training and operations to maintain free and open access, and we have welcomed historic firsts in that regard,” he said.
Just last month, Washington hosted the first ever US-ASEAN maritime exercise to expand the Southeast Asia Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative.
In May, the US Navy, along with the Philippine, Indian and Japanese navies took part in a joint sail in the South China Sea.
Stilwell noted that the US conducted more freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in 2019 than in any of the past 25 years.