China must abide by same rules as everyone else: Biden

US Vice President Joe Biden speaking at a conference in Washington, US on June 20.
US Vice President Joe Biden speaking at a conference in Washington, US on June 20. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - China must abide by the same international rules as everyone else, US Vice-President Joe Biden warned after an UN-backed tribunal ruled against Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.

The United States has no claims of its own within the vast area, but insists that all shipping has a right to pass through seas it regards as international waters.

It has previously deployed aircraft carriers and a host of other vessels to assert freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, through which a third of the global oil trade passes.

"We expect China to play by the same rules as everyone else," Biden told the Sydney Morning Herald in comments published on Saturday (July 16), referring to the international rules-based system that governs claims to maritime territory.

He added that "we're urging both China and the Philippines to abide by the ruling".

Beijing asserts sovereignty over almost all of the strategically vital South China Sea, despite rival claims from its South-east Asian neighbours, most notably Manila, a US ally which took the case to the tribunal.

China's claims, which include waters approaching neighbouring countries, are based on a vaguely defined "nine-dash-line" found on a 1940s Chinese map.

This week the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled China has no historic rights to resources within the area, a decision Beijing angrily rejected.

Biden, who arrives in Australia later Saturday for a visit in which he is expected to address Washington's military alliance with Canberra, said it was vital that freedom of navigation was maintained.

He said the US was working "with Australia, and countries throughout the region, to insist that the liberal international order be maintained as it relates to sustaining the free flow of commerce - keeping sea lanes open and the skies free for navigation".

A US State Department spokesman earlier in the week described the UN ruling as "final and legally binding", while Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Beijing risked reputational harm if it ignored the decision.