Cold War With China Escalating Due To South China Sea?

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

WSJ/HONG KONG—The U.S. plans to for­mally op­pose a swath of Chi­nese ter­ri­to­r­ial claims in the South China Sea, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter, as Wash­ing­ton takes a harder line against Bei­jing’s ef­forts to as­sert con­trol over the strate­gic wa­ters.

While Wash­ing­ton has pre­vi­ously said it sees Bei­jing’s ex­pan­sive sov­er­eignty claims over most of the South China Sea as un­law­ful, the State De­part­ment is pre­paring to is­sue a po­si­tion pa­per that of­fi­cially re­jects spe­cific Chi­nese claims for the first time, the peo­ple said.

Such a ges­ture de­parts from past U.S. prac­tice of not tak­ing sides on ter­ri­to­r­ial dis­putes in the South China Sea, the peo­ple said.

The pa­per could be is­sued this week, the peo­ple said, just af­ter the fourth an­niver­sary of a 2016 rul­ing by an in­ternational tri­bunal that found no le­gal ba­sis for Bei­jing’s claims to his­toric and eco­nomic rights in most of the South China Sea.

Re­cently, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has crit­i­cized Bei­jing for as­sert­ing “un­law­ful mar­itime claims” in the South China Sea while ramp­ing up naval op­er­a­tions to chal­lenge those claims This month, the U.S. sent two air­craft car­ri­ers to par­tic­i­pate in one of its largest naval ex­er­cises in re­cent years in the South China Sea—at the same time that China was hold­ing drills in the area.

The State De­part­ment didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

China has re­peat­edly re­jected the rul­ing, is­sued by a tri­bunal at the Per­ma­nent Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion in The Hague fol­low­ing a le­gal chal­lenge brought by the Philip­pines in 2013. Bei­jing didn’t take part in the tri­bunal, which it has in­sisted had no ju­ris­dic­tion on the mat­ter. In­stead, China con­tin­ued ef­forts to build ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands around dis­puted South China Sea fea­tures and for­tify them with weaponry.

At the time of the rul­ing, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion called on rel­e­vant par­ties to re­spect it while stat­ing that the U.S. doesn’t take sides on spe­cific ter­ri­to­r­ial dis­putes in the South China Sea. Wash­ing­ton has long in­sisted that it has an in­ter­est in main­tain­ing free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion in the area.

In the pa­per, the U.S. would state that “Chi­na’s mar­itime claims pose the sin­gle great­est threat to the free­dom of the seas in mod­ern his­tory,” ac­cord­ing to a draft seen by The Wall Street Jour­nal. “We can­not af­ford to re-en­ter an era where states like China at­tempt to as­sert sov­er­eignty over the seas,” the draft said.

The U.S. re­jects a num­ber of Chi­nese claims to cer­tain ar­eas and fea­tures in the South China Sea that are also claimed by South­east Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Brunei, Ma­laysia, In­done­sia, the Philip­pines and Viet­nam, ac­cord­ing to the draft.

Wash­ing­ton also states its view that Chi­nese ef­forts to “ha­rass South­east Asian fish­ing or hy­dro­car­bon de­vel­op­ment, or to uni­lat­er­ally un­der­take such ac­tiv­i­ties on its own, in these ar­eas, are un­law­ful,” ac­cord­ing to the draft.


The U.S. is not a party of the UN Law of the Sea treaty that sets out a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. Despite that, the State Department noted that China and its neighbors, including the Philippines, are parties to the treaty and should respect the decision.

The United States has no claims to the waters but has deployed warships and aircraft for decades to patrol and promote freedom of navigation and overflight in the busy waterway.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea and routinely objects to any action by the U.S. military in the region. Five other governments claim all or part of the sea, through which approximately $5 trillion in goods are shipped every year.

China has sought to shore up its claim to the sea by building military bases on coral atolls, leading the U.S. to sail warships through the region in what it calls freedom of operation missions. More here.


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