United States urges all countries to adhere to South China Sea ruling

US Sen. John McCain centre is surrounded by the media as he arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.
US Sen. John McCain centre is surrounded by the media as he arrives at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States said on Tuesday that an arbitration court ruling that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea should be treated as final and binding and not as a reason to raise tensions.

"We certainly would urge all parties not to use this as an opportunity to engage in escalatory or provocative action,"White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in a briefing aboard Air Force One.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague announced its ruling on Tuesday that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within much of the South China Sea, which has been subject to territorial disputes by several countries.

China, which boycotted the hearings at the court, vowed again to ignore the ruling and said its armed forces would defend its sovereignty and maritime interests.

Earlier, US State Department spokesman John Kirby termed the court's decision "an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea".

"The United States expresses its hope and expectation that both parties will comply with their obligations," Kirby said.

China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about US$5 trillion in shipping trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Daniel Kritenbrink, US President Barack Obama's top Asia policy advisor, said that Washington had "no need or interest in stirring tension in the South China Sea" as a pretext for involvement in the region.

Kritenbrink, who is the senior director for Asia affairs at the National Security Council, made clear that Washington did not fear China's rise, "nor do we seek to use the South China Sea to thwart it". "... we will not turn a blind eye to this important waterway in return for cooperation elsewhere in the world," he added.

US Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and fellow Republican Dan Sullivan issued a statement encouraging other claimants, including Vietnam, to seek similar resolution of maritime disputes through arbitration and negotiation.

"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,"they said.

The senators said the United States should be "regularly challenging China's excessive maritime claims" through air and warship patrols and make clear the US interest in preventing Chinese militarisation of strategic features such as Scarborough Shoal.

Sullivan, who has been involved in negotiations with China in the past, told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies that Washington also needed to maintain a favourable military balance in the Asia-Pacific "that secures our enduring interests, upholds our treaty commitments and safeguards open seas and open commerce".

Peter Navarro, an economics professor and China adviser for presumptive Republican Party candidate Donald Trump in the Nov 8 presidential election, called on all parties to respect the court's decision.

"It's important to reiterate that freedom of navigation and overflight is a key principle of the international rules-based order and it should be respected by all parties," Navarro said.