Tribunal ruling on South China Sea is binding, stresses Obama

He says at summit with Asean leaders that ruling 'helped clarify maritime rights in the region'

(From left) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Mr Obama and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc were among the leaders at the 11th East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos, yesterday.
(From left) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Mr Obama and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc were among the leaders at the 11th East Asia Summit in Vientiane, Laos, yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The landmark arbitral tribunal ruling on the South China Sea is "binding", United States President Barack Obama stressed during a summit with Asean leaders.

"I recognise this raises tensions, but I also look forward to discussing how we can constructively move forward together to lower tensions and promote diplomacy and regional stability," he said at the annual Asean-US Summit yesterday.

Asean leaders in Vientiane this week for a series of meetings with their regional counterparts had been cautious about mentioning the July 12 ruling on a case initiated by the Philippines over its overlapping territorial claims with China.

According to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman Martin Andanar, no Asean leader asked China to comply with the ruling during the Asean-China Summit on Wednesday.

Indeed, a joint statement adopted after that summit did not mention the ruling.



I am mindful that this is the last day of my last trip to this region as president. When I think back to the time that I spent here as a boy, I can't help but be struck by the extraordinary progress that has been made across so much of the region… even as there is still a lot of work to be done.


I don't take these comments personally because it seems as if this is a phrase he has used repeatedly… It seems to be just a habit...

It has no impact on our broader relationship with the Philippine people on the wide range of programmes and security cooperation that we have with this treaty ally. And it certainly has no impact in terms of how we interpret our obligations to continue to build on the longstanding alliance that we have with the Philippines, however that may play itself out. ''


China continues to object to the Thaad (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) deployment in the Republic of Korea, one of our treaty allies. What I have said to President Xi (Jinping) directly is that we cannot have a situation where we are unable to defend either ourselves or treaty allies against increasingly provocative behaviour and escalating capabilities by the North Koreans.


The United States was on the right side of history when it came to the Cold War. There may have been moments, particularly here in South-east Asia, which in our singular focus on defeating an expansionist and very aggressive communism, we didn't think through all the implications of what we did as policymakers. ''

Apart from the Philippines, three other Asean states - Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia - also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea.

The ruling by the arbitral tribunal in The Hague effectively invalidated what China calls its historical rights over most of the sea, and further admonished it for conducting vast reclamation work in contested waters to bolster its claims.

Beijing has rejected the ruling as a farce, and Manila has not actively tried to push its legal claim while Mr Duterte attempts to engineer a face-saving "soft landing" for both countries.

However, before the Asean-China Summit, the Philippines' Defence Ministry released photographs and a map that it said showed more Chinese ships near the contested Scarborough Shoal, raising fears reclamation works would also be conducted there.

According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, Premier Li Keqiang told Asean leaders on Wednesday that China was willing to work with them in "dispelling interference... and properly handling the South China Sea issue".

The remarks are widely known to be directed at the US, which has sent its ships close to China's reclaimed islands in what it calls freedom of navigation operations.

Meanwhile, a Xinhua news agency commentary yesterday called Mr Obama's US rebalance to Asia a "narrow-minded scheme orchestrated to maintain his country's hegemony and corrosive to the region's peace and stability".

Mr Obama said yesterday: "With respect to maritime issues, we'll continue to work to ensure that disputes are resolved peacefully, including in the South China Sea." The arbitration ruling "helped clarify maritime rights in the region".

Asean, he said, is "key" to the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific policy. "We have forged a strategic partnership. The US is committed to building on this solid foundation."

Speaking at the same summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he welcomed the US' "benign and positive" presence in the Asia-Pacific, according to Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin.

Mr Lee said the US had helped build "a regional order where all countries big and small play by the same rules, compete and resolve their disputes peacefully, including in the South China Sea".

Both claimant and non-claimant states in the South China Sea share fundamental interests in maintaining peace and stability and peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, he said. Mr Lee also said he hoped the US would remain as committed to Asean under its future president.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'Tribunal ruling on S. China Sea is binding, stresses Obama'. Subscribe