Support S. China Sea ruling, US urges Asean

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.PHOTO: REUTERS

International court to rule soon on Philippine case against China's territorial claim in sea

WASHINGTON • The US has urged South-east Asian countries to rally behind the impending international court ruling on the South China Sea.

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday told a House of Representatives hearing that China "can't have it both ways", by being a party to the convention but rejecting its provisions, including "the binding nature of any arbitration decision".

"China has a decision to make," he said. "(If) it ignores the decision... it risks doing terrible damage to its reputation, further alienating countries in the region and pushing them even closer to the United States."

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to rule in the coming weeks on a case the Philippines has brought against China's claim to virtually all of the South China Sea.

The ruling is widely expected to favour the Philippines and risks significantly raising regional tensions because China, although a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea under which the case is being heard, rejects the court's authority to hear it.

Washington has been lobbying hard to convince countries to state that the court's ruling, expected late next month or in early June, must be binding. The court has no enforcement powers and its decisions have been ignored in the past.

Washington has been lobbying hard to convince countries to state that the court's ruling, expected late next month or in early June, must be binding. The court has no enforcement powers and its decisions have been ignored in the past.

Mr Blinken said the US had worked hard to build up the 10-nation Asean as an organisation that "might feel some greater strength in numbers" to take on difficult issues like the South China Sea.

He referred to a February summit at which US President Barack Obama and Asean leaders - four of whose nations have rival claims in the sea - agreed that territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully and via legal means. "We are looking to Asean, as it did most recently at that summit, to express its support for these basic principles and we would like to see that happen when the arbitration decision is issued as well," he said.

China said on Sunday it agreed with three Asean members - Brunei, Cambodia and Laos - that South China Sea territorial disputes should not affect relations.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Support S. China Sea ruling, US urges Asean'. Print Edition | Subscribe