China refused to defend its territorial claims in the South China Sea to a United Nations tribunal because it doesn’t recognize international arbitration of its dispute with the Philippines.
“China’s position that it will not accept or participate in the tribunal case involving the Philippines hasn’t changed,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing today.
The UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration announced yesterday it was giving China until Dec. 15 to respond to the complaint by the Philippines filed in March, when it asked the court to uphold its right to exploit waters within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. So far China has refused any international efforts to resolve the dispute, insisting any discussions on the issue must be held directly between China and the Philippines.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has been tapping its economic and military muscle to assert its claims to surrounding waters that may be rich in mineral and energy deposits. China claims much of the South China Sea under its “nine dash-line” map, first published in 1947, which extends hundreds of miles south from China’s Hainan Island to equatorial waters off the coast of Borneo, taking in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said China’s action in the South China Sea risked destabilizing the region and that the “U.S. will not look the other way when fundamental principles of international order are being challenged.”
Hagel made the remarks on May 31 at a gathering of defense officials in Singapore, where he drew a rebuke from Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of general staff of the People’s Liberation Army, who said Hagel’s criticism was “groundless.”
The U.S. is treaty-bound to defend the Philippines and Japan, involved in a separate dispute with China in the East China Sea, in case of any conflict.
The Philippines and China have had regular dust-ups in the area. On May 7, Philippine police fired warning shots before arresting a boatload of Chinese fisherman near the Spratly Islands, known as Nansha in Chinese, for violating their sovereignty and catching endangered sea turtles. Chinese ships used water cannons in January to drive Filipino fishermen away from the Scarborough Shoal, the Philippine military said on Feb. 24. China warned off two Philippine boats near the Second Thomas Shoal, its Foreign Ministry said on March 10.
Vietnam is preparing legal action against China in a separate dispute over a different area of the South China Sea after China set up an oil rig near the contested Paracel Islands, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said in a May 30 interview. The placing of the rig set off anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam last month that left at least three dead.
In the East China Sea, Chinese and Japanese coast guard boats regularly tail each other around a chain of islands disputed by the two countries. Two Chinese fighter jets came within tens of meters of two Japanese surveillance planes near the islands last month, a move that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called “dangerous.”
Speaking at the same international conference as Hagel last week, Abe said that countries shouldn’t try to change the status quo by force and that Japan would make every effort to help Southeast Asian nations secure their seas and airspace.