S. China Sea: US urges peaceful resolution

Taken on May 5, this shows crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
Taken on May 5, this shows crew members of China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. PHOTO: AFP

Obama also rejects Chinese claims that the US stoked tensions in disputed waters

US President Barack Obama has reiterated calls for China and the other claimants in South China Sea territorial disputes to work constructively to resolve disagreements, as he weighed in for the first time on the recent international tribunal ruling.

Without citing any of the Chinese criticisms of the July 12 ruling directly, he appeared to reject claims that the Philippines had acted in bad faith or that the US had stoked tensions in the South China Sea.

"The Philippines made a lawful and peaceful effort to resolve their maritime claims with China using the tribunal established under the Law of the Sea Convention," he said in an e-mail interview with The Straits Times.

"The tribunal's ruling delivered a clear and legally binding decision on maritime claims in the South China Sea as they relate to China and the Philippines - and that ruling should be respected."

The decision from the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague had rejected the historical basis for the nine-dash line, which China argues gives it sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea.

OBAMA ON... THE U.S.-SINGAPORE RELATIONSHIP

State visits are often an opportunity for the United States to reaffirm our ties and friendship with our closest partners around the world. This visit is an occasion to mark the 50th anniversary of our bilateral relationship with Singapore, which is one of our strongest and most reliable partners in South-east Asia. I look forward to hosting Prime Minister Lee, whose friendship and partnership I appreciate very much and with whom I've worked throughout my administration...

Singapore is an anchor for the US presence in the region, which is a foundation of stability and peace. Both our nations are committed to building a regional order where all nations play by the same rules and disputes are resolved peacefully and this visit will be an opportunity to continue deepening our cooperation on behalf of regional stability and prosperity.

THE TPP

I remain committed to TPP because it's a good deal - for America, for the region and for the world. TPP advances America's economic and our strategic interests. It would eliminate 18,000 tariffs - basically taxes - on American products and help us sell more American exports to the Asia-Pacific. It levels the playing field for our workers and helps to ensure countries abide by strong labour and environmental rules. It will help strengthen our relationships with partners like Singapore and lay the foundation for even greater cooperation in other areas. It will make sure that we're writing the rules for trade in the 21st century.

THE OPPOSITION TO TRADE IN THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

I know that the politics around trade can be very difficult - especially in an election year. There are legitimate concerns and anxieties that the forces of globalisation are leaving too many people behind - and we have to take those concerns seriously and address them. But the answer isn't to turn inward and embrace protectionism. We can't just walk away from trade. In a global economy where our economies and supply chains are deeply integrated, it's not even possible. The answer is to make sure that trade is working for our people by supporting good jobs, reducing inequality and creating more opportunity. That's what TPP does. I'll continue making the case for TPP, and I'm optimistic that the United States Congress will ultimately support this landmark agreement.

ON THE ASIA REBALANCE

I'm confident that America's foreign policy rebalance to the region will endure beyond my presidency because it's in the national interest of the United States. The United States has been a Pacific nation for over two centuries. That's not going to change. That reality transcends election cycles. And just as our past has been integrally linked to the region, so, too, is our future. The Asia-Pacific is home to nearly half the world's population, a growing middle class and holds so much opportunity for us all. It's no wonder that America's engagement in the region has strong, sustained, bipartisan support. So I'll be handing my successor a strong foundation - including closer ties with Singapore - on which to continue building, and I'm optimistic that will happen.

ON THE SOUTH CHINA SEA TRIBUNAL RULING

The Philippines made a lawful and peaceful effort to resolve their maritime claims with China using the tribunal established under the (United Nations) Law of the Sea Convention. The tribunal's ruling delivered a clear and legally binding decision on maritime claims in the South China Sea as they relate to China and the Philippines - and that ruling should be respected.

ON THE U.S. POSTURE IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

The United States believes that every nation should respect international law, including in the South China Sea. This is not an area where we can pick and choose. It is in the interests of all of us - the United States, China and the rest of the world - to make sure that the rules of the road are upheld. These rules and norms are part of the foundation of regional stability, and they have allowed nations across the region, including China, to grow and prosper...

It's worth remembering that our presence in the region is nothing new. For more than 60 years, the United States has stood by our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific. That includes our defence partnership with Singapore, which stretches back more than two decades. Moreover, our alliances and partnerships are not directed against any nation. Rather, they are focused on protecting and defending our common security and upholding a rules-based order that undergirds the peace and prosperity of the region and the world. In this work, we are grateful for our continued partnership with Singapore.

The ruling was swiftly condemned by Beijing, who had said it would not recognise the ruling well before it was even released.

The Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, for instance, said the Philippines case was an "attempt to use legal instruments for political purposes", adding that Manila initiated the proceedings "not out of goodwill or good faith". He added that tensions in the South China Sea rose when the US declared its pivot to Asia.

 

Mr Obama said that the US works to ensure that any actions it takes are consistent with international laws and stressed that it was not targeting any one country with its engagement in Asia.

 

Said Mr Obama: "It's worth remembering that our presence in the region is nothing new. For more than 60 years, the United States has stood by our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific. That includes our defence partnership with Singapore, which stretches back more than two decades. Moreover, our alliances and partnerships are not directed against any nation."

He noted: "Rather, they are focused on protecting and defending our common security and upholding a rules-based order that undergirds the peace and prosperity of the region and the world. In this work, we are grateful for our continued partnership with Singapore."

The South China Sea disputes have long been a point of contention in US-China ties, with the two sides engaged in a war of words over the past year on Beijing's island-building activities in disputed waters.

Asked how the US would engage China on the issue after the ruling, Mr Obama said the US would continue urging a peaceful resolution.

"We continue to urge China and other claimants to work constructively to resolve these disagreements, so that the South China Sea - which is so vital to the global economy - can be defined by commerce and cooperation."

Mr Obama added: "The United States believes that every nation should respect international law, including in the South China Sea. This is not an area where we can pick and choose. It is in the interests of all of us - the United States, China and the rest of the world - to make sure that the rules of the road are upheld. These rules and norms are part of the foundation of regional stability, and they have allowed nations across the region, including China, to grow and prosper."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'S. China Sea: US urges peaceful resolution'. Print Edition | Subscribe