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China Asserts ‘Unlawful’ Claims in South China Sea: US State Dept Study

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The State Department is calling on Beijing to stop its “unlawful and coercive activities” in the South China Sea, after releasing a study rejecting China’s maritime claims in the sea, which the regime continues to push.

“With the release of this latest study, the United States calls again on the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to conform its maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention, to comply with the decision of the arbitral tribunal in its award of July 12, 2016, in The South China Sea Arbitration,” the State Department said in a statement released on Jan. 12.

China is currently locking horns with all its South China Sea neighbors—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan—in a territorial dispute over reefs, islands, and atolls in the region.

A 2016 international ruling already rejected the Chinese regime’s “Nine-dash line” claim to about 85 percent of the South China Sea’s 2.2 million square miles. The ruling said that China’s claims had no historical basis and that Beijing had violated the sovereignty of the Philippines by asserting territorial claims with its artificial islands built on reefs and sea rocks.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has rejected the ruling. Instead, in recent years, the Chinese regime has violated the ruling by building military outposts on the artificial islands and reefs in the areas that it claims. It has also deployed coast guard ships and Chinese fishing boats to intimidate foreign vessels, block access to waterways, and seize shoals and reefs.

The 47-page study (pdf), put together by the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, explained why China’s four assertions, including sovereignty claims over maritime features, are “inconsistent with international law.”

China’s claim of more than 100 features in the South China Sea that are submerged below the sea surface at high tide are “beyond the lawful limits of any state’s territorial sea,” the study says.

Beijing’s use of maritime features to claim four “island groups,” including Taiwan’s Pratas Island, also known as Dongsha Qundao, did not meet “the geographic criteria for using straight baselines” under the 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.

“The overall effect of these maritime claims is that the PRC unlawfully claims sovereignty or some form of exclusive jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea,” the study concludes.

It adds: “These claims gravely undermine the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally-recognized provisions of international law reflected in the Convention.”

The study is an update of another State Department study published in 2014.

The United States formally rejected Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea on July 13, 2020, as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the claims were “completely unlawful” and that China was conducting a “campaign of bullying to control” the area. 

Frank Fang

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Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a master’s degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.

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