White House backs Trump-era rejection of Beijing's claim to South China Sea

White House backs Trump-era rejection of Beijing's claim to South China Sea
© AFP/Pool

The White House on Sunday backed a Trump-era rejection of China’s claim to the South China Sea.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken affirmed the administration's commitment to a July 2020 policy that called Beijing’s claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea “completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”

The secretary of State also said attacking Philippine armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea would “invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.”

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“Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway,” Blinken wrote in a statement.

“The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea. 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 under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added.

The U.S. commitment comes before the fifth anniversary of the Arbitral Tribunal ruling on the South China Sea, which decided in favor of the Philippines and against China’s maritime claims near the Spratly Islands and other reefs and shoals, according to The Associated Press.

China, however, rejects the ruling, the AP noted.

The Trump administration last year, before the fourth anniversary of the ruling, said it supported the decision but also noted that it thought virtually all of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea outside of the country’s internationally recognized waters were illegitimate, according to the wire service.

Blinken's statement on Sunday came against the backdrop of rising tensions between the U.S. and China as the two countries grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights, trade and Chinese policy in Hong Kong and Tibet, according to the AP.

China has made claims to nearly the entire South China Sea and regularly objects to action by the U.S. military in the region, the wire service noted.