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People's Daily Online

US ploy in South China Sea bound to fail

People's Daily Online

By Jia Yu (China Daily) 13:21, November 17, 2015

President Xi Jinping's visit to the Philippines for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting from Nov 17 to 19 has quelled speculations that the maritime disputes with the host nation could make him decide otherwise.

Last week Philippines President Benigno Aquino III assured visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that the APEC meeting would focus on Asia-Pacific regional economic cooperation without raising the disputes in the South China Sea, as most members including China had agreed. But the US State Department has hinted that the South China Sea issue could be raised during the meeting despite Manila's efforts to prevent the agenda from deviating from free trade and sustainable growth in and common prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region.

As the world's second-largest sea-lane that connects the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea is of great strategic importance to all countries in the region, as well as the US and European countries.

Nearly 80 percent of global trade depends upon maritime transportation, and about one-third of it is carried out through the South China Sea, which sees the passage of at least 40,000 ships a year. The number of oil tankers that sail through the Strait of Malacca, a critical passage through regional waters, is almost three times that of the Suez Canal and five times of the Panama Canal. Two-thirds of the global trade in liquefied natural gas is also conducted through the waterway.

China has more stakes that any other country in safeguarding peace and stability in the South China Sea, because it is a major channel of its global economic network. So ensuring smooth transportation (of energy sources) and navigation through the South China Sea is not only conducive to the shared interests of all Asia-Pacific economies - such as China, the US, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - but also economies elsewhere.

China passed the Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone in 1992, and the Law on the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf seven years later. It ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1996 and publicized the territorial baseline of its mainland and Xisha Islands.

True, it is yet to disclose the territorial baseline of its Nansha Islands, but that does not nullify its legal rights in the surrounding waters, including territorial sea, exclusive economic zones and continental shelf. This makes the entry of US guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen into the waters near China's islands in the South China Sea last month a violation of international law.

The US' attempt to justify its action on the pretext of "freedom of navigation" is a rather clumsy argument that ignores some specific clauses in international law, for instance, innocent passage in territorial seas, transit passage in straits used for international navigation, and sea-lane passage through archipelagoes.

Also, the freedom of navigation clause in international law is neither unconditional nor beyond international regulations. Freedom of navigation can neither be above an affected coastal state's laws and rights in the exclusive economic zones nor can it override other countries' interests in the high seas.

Washington's recent provocative moves have infringed upon Beijing's maritime sovereignty and security in the South China Sea, the United Nations Charter as well as international law. They were also intended to show the US' military muscles on the pretext of practicing freedom of navigation.

But China is not one to give in when it comes to its territorial, maritime and security interests, and the US is unlikely to succeed in its designs by instigating ASEAN countries to challenge China's maritime rights in the South China Sea.

The author is deputy director of the China Institute for Marine Affairs attached to the State Oceanic Administration.

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