United States and China again took on each other in a show of strength on the fifth anniversary of the verdict of the international tribunal on the South China Sea. A defiant China on Monday dismissed the 2016 verdict of the international tribunal on the South China Sea, rejecting its claims over the area as a piece of “waste paper” and brushed aside US’ fresh backing for the judgement as a “political farce” to smear Beijing. On July 12, 2016, the tribunal struck the worst blow to China’s claims over almost all of the SCS, saying its much-touted nine-dash line has no legal basis.
Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) accused US Navy destroyer USS Benfold of illegally trespassing into China’s territorial waters which sailed through the South China Sea (SCS), coinciding with the fifth anniversary of the verdict to assert freedom of navigation. The US has been periodically conducting such naval and aerial missions through the SCS to challenge China’s claims. On the fifth anniversary of the international tribunal on the SCS, which had delivered a stunning blow to China’s expansive sovereignty claims over the all-important sea trade route, the Biden administration upheld the previous Trump-era backing to the tribunal verdict.
In a stern warning to China, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said that any attack on the Philippines by Beijing would draw Washington’s response under a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines.Reacting to Blinken’s statement, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told a media briefing in Beijing that “the ruling is illegal, null and void and a wastepaper”. “China will not accept or participate in this tribunal, will not accept or acknowledge this ruling,” he said, reiterating that Beijing will continue to exercise its control over the area in the SCS.
“The sovereignty and rights of China on the SCS will not be affected by the ruling and China will not accept any assertion or act based on this ruling,” he said. He termed the tribunal as a “political farce”, saying the US was the “culprit and manipulator of this farce” to smear China.
In 2016, the Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’, the five-judge tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) based in The Hague adjudicating on the petition filed by the Philippines had said.
Striking down the core of China’s claims over the 90 per cent of the SCS based on historic rights, the Tribunal concluded that, “to the extent China had historic rights to resources in the waters of the SCS, such rights were extinguished to the extent they were incompatible with the exclusive economic zones provided for in the Convention (UN Convention on the Law of Seas – UNCLOS)”. The Tribunal also noted that there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources, as claimed by Beijing.For decades, China, which boycotted the tribunal questioning its legality, has been asserting that its emperors discovered the islands hundreds of years ago and have been exercising control over the area throughout history.
But its claims came into conflict with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan as they hardly have Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) provided by UNCLOS, which Beijing declined to recognize. Five years on, Beijing not only remained defiant but also consolidated its claims over the area, building artificial islands backed by military installations fitted with missiles and an airport. China has also managed the Philippines government which won the case with offers of billions of dollars of investments, with its President Rodrigo Duterte maintaining a steady silence amidst a decisive build up by China in the region.Endorsing the stand of his predecessor Mike Pompeo, who was the US Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, Blinken said: “nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea”.