US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Observers warn of an increased risk of military conflict between China and the United States. Washington tightened its stance on the situation in the South China Sea and rejected most of Beijing’s claims for this resource-rich waterway.
On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US has officially opposed a number of China’s claims for water within the so-called nine-dotted line (the controversial demarcation line – approx. ed.), Which covers almost the entire South China Sea.
Although Washington has no claim to sovereignty in the disputed waters, Pompeo stated that, in accordance with a decision of the Hague Arbitration Court in 2016, the United States also rejected Beijing’s territorial or maritime claims for Mischief Reef and Thomas Second Bank.
The United States invalidated all of China’s claims for water outside the 12-mile territorial zone around the Spratly Archipelago, referring in particular to the waters surrounding Wangard sandbank off the coast of Vietnam, the Malaysian reefs of Luconia, an area within the exclusive economic zone of Brunei and Indonesia’s island Natuna Besar. The statement also said that China’s claims regarding the continental shelf in the James Shoal area near Malaysia are illegal.
“We make it clear that Beijing’s claims for offshore resources in most of the South China Sea are absolutely illegal, as are its attempts to take control of them through threats,” said Pompeo.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” he added.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian called the US opposition “unfounded” and said that it was Washington’s attempt to sow hostility between Beijing and Southeast Asian countries, which, he said, would be futile.
“China does not strive to become a maritime empire. China treats neighboring countries on the basis of equality and shows utmost restraint,” said Zhao on Tuesday.
He said that the United States is a destabilizing factor in the South China Sea, since they constantly send naval vessels into its waters, although they are not a state that claims to be made.
After a decision was made by the court in The Hague in 2016, the Barack Obama administration opposed Beijing’s claims and demanded that China stop work on washing artificial islands in shallow water in the Scarborough Reef. But Pompeo’s statement was the first time that the United States publicly rejected Beijing’s claim to a strategic waterway that carries $ 5 trillion worth of foreign trade operations each year.
Chen Xiang Guo, an assistant researcher at the Hainan Analytical Center of the National Institute for the Study of the South China Sea, says Pompeo’s statements indicate that the United States has decided which side to take.
“The US position is very clear,” Chen says. “If we used to say that the US takes a neutral position in disputes over sovereignty, now with this statement they have refuted China’s territorial claims, which means that the struggle between China and the USA over the South China Sea is close to a new Cold War.”
Washington’s new stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea could increase confrontation between the two superpowers, which is no longer limited to trade and has spread elsewhere – countries are confronting in such areas as the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, and Hong Kong’s national security law. At the beginning of this month, the United States sent two aircraft carriers, Ronald Reagan and Nimitz, and four other warships to the South China Sea to conduct exercises. They did this at a time when China was conducting its own exercises near the disputed Paracel Islands.
Zhang Mingliang, an expert on the problems of the South China Sea from Jinan University in Guangzhou, says that because of the enmity between China and the United States over the waterway and the intensification of the military activity in the region of the two countries, the tension intensified “to an unprecedented high level.”
“The confrontation and games around the South China Sea are more serious than anywhere else,” says Zhang.
Colleen Co., a fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang University of Technology in Singapore, said Beijing could step up measures to counter US military activity in disputed waters.
“In principle, this can lead to an increased risk of incidents in the South China Sea (albeit not intentional, but inevitable in nature), which can increase tension and exacerbate the situation,” he says.
The Pompeo statement said the United States “supports its allies and partners from Southeast Asia in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources.” This statement, according to Chen from the Hainan Analytical Center, hit China for the living.
The South China Sea accounts for about 12% of the world’s fish catch, which provides food to tens of millions of people living in the region. It is also rich in energy resources – according to rough estimates, we are talking about undeveloped oil fields with a capacity of 11 billion barrels and gas fields with a capacity of 190 trillion cubic feet. China has territorial disputes over a waterway with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
Tensions over exploration for oil and gas fields have peaked since last year when, during exploration work at an oil field near the Wangard reef in the disputed Spratly archipelago, the coastal guard vessels of China and Vietnam entered into a confrontation that lasted for several months.
According to the Asian Initiative for Transparency of the Sea Route (AMTI) analytical center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, last May, China also sent coastguards to the water area near the Luconia reef group at the southern tip of the Spratly archipelago when Malaysia explored oil and gas fields there .
AMTI also reports a more unusual incident that took place earlier this year. Petronas, a Malaysian state-owned energy company, has sent a British drilling vessel to work on two oil and gas blocks that fall into the joint border determination area of Malaysia and Vietnam, as well as into the zone designated by the Chinese “nine-dotted line”. After this, the courts of the Chinese, Vietnamese and Malaysian Navy, Coast Guard and Naval Police entered into a confrontation. The fact of confrontation has not been confirmed by any of the countries.
In addition, there were conflicts over fishing rights between countries claiming these territories and Indonesia, which is not a claimant country, and whose exclusive economic zone near the Natun Islands intersects with the Chinese “nine-dotted line”.
“Although China speaks of dialogue and cooperation, serious debate is still ongoing around resource exploration, and it continues to intensify,” Chen said. “If these disputes escalate into conflict, the US may have the opportunity to intervene.”
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