The Hague ruling: US officials urge China to respect decision

Six senators call for Beijing to cease island-building activities in S. China Sea

This file aerial photo taken on May 11, 2015, shows alleged on-going reclamation by China on the Mischief Reef in the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea. PHOTO: AFP

US officials and lawmakers pressed China to recognise Tuesday's tribunal ruling on its claims to the South China Sea, stressing that Beijing needs to show the world that it can be a "responsible rising power".

In a series of remarks a day after a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal invalidated a key component of China's territorial claims, senior lawmakers called repeatedly for China to reconsider its opposition to the ruling.

Six Republican senators - including two former presidential hopefuls - even introduced a resolution in Congress to push the point.

Senator Cory Gardner, speaking on behalf of his colleagues John McCain, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst and Dan Sullivan, urged China to immediately cease its island-building activities in the South China Sea.

"We will know going forward from this ruling if China is going to be a responsible rising power that respects the rules of international law or if the history books will later look back at this time period and show a nation that decides to ignore international law," Mr Gardner said on the floor of the Senate.

The resolution also urged the US State Department to use all diplomatic channels to communicate the United States' support for freedom of navigation and called on the Pentagon to "routinely enforce freedom of navigation and overflight in the East and South China seas".

Earlier in the day, Mr McCain and Mr Sullivan released a statement to the same effect.

"China faces a choice. China can choose to be guided by international law, institutions and norms. Or it can choose to reject them and pursue the path of intimidation and coercion. Too often in recent years, China has chosen the latter. The world will be watching to see the choice China makes," they said.

Using the same formulation at his daily media briefing, State Department spokesman John Kirby said: "The world is watching now to see what these claimants will do. The world is watching to see if China is really the global power it professes itself to be and the responsible power that it professes itself to be."

At the same time, administration officials took pains to downplay any tensions between the US and China. Mr Kirby would not comment on the possibility of the ruling changing the US military posture in the region.

Asia watchers generally agree that the Obama administration should not pre-emptively take any military action in the region.

"I think the law has spoken... We should talk about diplomacy now to support the rule of law first, then take military action only if necessary," said Dr Patrick Cronin of the Centre for a New American Security.

Like their State Department counterparts, White House officials called for restraint and also stressed that the US-China relationship extends beyond disagreements in the South China Sea. White House press secretary Josh Earnest urged all parties not to use the ruling as an "opportunity to engage in escalatory or provocative actions".

The US' top Asia adviser Daniel Kritenbrink said in a speech that America continues to welcome China's rise, adding: "We have an Asia strategy that includes the South China Sea and not vice versa."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline The Hague ruling: US officials urge China to respect decision. Subscribe