The Group of Seven nations expressed “deep concern” over the use of force to settle Asian maritime disputes, adding to international pressure on China as it asserts territorial claims across the region.
“We oppose any unilateral attempt by any party to assert its territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force,” the G-7 said in a communique released last night at its meeting in Brussels. “We call on all parties to clarify and pursue their territorial and maritime claims in accordance with international law.”
The G-7 statement echoed language used by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has repeatedly accused China of trying to change the status quo in the region by force. The G-7 weighed in after a United Nations arbitration tribunal gave China six months to respond to a complaint by the Philippines by justifying its claims to much of the South China Sea.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has been flexing its economic and military muscle to assert its claims to surrounding waters that may be rich in mineral and energy deposits. China calls much of the South China Sea its own 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. Chinese and Japanese coast guard boats also regularly tail each other off disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Vietnam is preparing legal action against China in a separate dispute in 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.
Dung is scheduled to hold a press conference today on the dispute with China and may give more information about a possible legal challenge.
China won’t accept any arbitration of its disputes with neighbors and insists on bilateral talks to settle the issues.
“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 yesterday in response to the arbitration panel’s request.
Talks among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on establishing a code of conduct to preserve freedom of navigation in the area have made little progress since China agreed to start discussions in July.
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.”