US State Department Bashes China’s Illegal and Coercive South China Sea Claims

A Chinese Aircraft Carrier goes out into the South China Sea / "Baycrest - Wikipedia user - CC-BY-SA-2.5 / Baycrest - 維基百科用戶 - CC-BY-SA-2.5"

In a follow-up to an identically titled research report from 2014, the U.S. State Department has produced a detailed new legal analysis bashing Communist China’s illegal vaguely-defined “nine-dash line” claims on the South China Sea.

The new 47-page research paper, ‘Limits in the Seas,’ the State Department called on Beijing “to cease its unlawful and coercive activities in the South China Sea” and decried the Asian power’s expansive claims in the area of “gravely undermin[ing] the rule of law in the oceans and numerous universally recognized provisions of international law reflected in the Convention.”

The report adds:

The overall effect of these maritime claims is that the PRC [China] unlawfully claims sovereignty or some form of exclusive jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea,” said the paper while reminding China of its obligations as a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

This detailed legal analysis also follows a 2020 policy statement by former secretary of state Michael Pompeo on the US’ position on the rapidly evolving South China Sea disputes.

Drafted by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Washington’s latest legal analysis focuses on China’s claims and activities on four key fronts.

Asia Times notes:

First, it questions China’s “sovereignty” claims “over more than one hundred features in the South China Sea that are submerged below the sea surface at high tide and are beyond the lawful limits of any State’s territorial sea.”

…Second, the report questions China’s employment of “straight baselines” as a way “to enclose the islands, waters, and submerged features within vast areas of ocean space in the South China Sea” in order to create “island groups” – namely, Dongsha Qundao, Xisha Qundao, Zhongsha Qundao, and Nansha Qundao – with their own distinct, full-fledged maritime entitlements.

…known as the “Four Sha” doctrine, China’s clustering of disparate islands into supposed archipelagos has been heavily criticized and even ridiculed by independent legal experts. In the words of the US State Department, neither the UNCLOS nor a “separate body of customary international law…supports China’s position that it may enclose entire island groups within straight baselines.”

…Third, the paper also criticized China’s maritime jurisdictional claims, which it assessed are “inconsistent with international law.” For instance, China has claimed more than 12 nautical miles jurisdiction from artificially-created islands in the South China Sea, while also opposing a US military presence across its 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

…Finally, the paper reiterated both the US’ as well as the 2016 Hague ruling’s stance on China’s “historic rights” claims in the South China Sea, which the paper said, “has no legal basis and is asserted by China without specificity as to the nature or geographic extent of the ‘historic rights’ claimed.”

To reinforce its legal position the US has also recently deployed two naval attack groups led by the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the Wasp-class USS Essex to the region. ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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