Blinken Levels Criticism at China Over South China Sea

Blinken Levels Criticism at China Over South China Sea
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens during a press conference at the Fiera di Roma, in Rome, on June 28, 2021. (Andres Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)
Frank Fang

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said that bullying is threatening rules-based maritime order in the South China Sea, in a thinly veiled criticism of the Chinese regime.

“In the South China Sea, we have seen dangerous encounters between vessels at sea and provocative actions to advance unlawful maritime claims,” Blinken said. “The United States has made clear its concerns regarding actions that intimidate and bully other states from lawfully accessing their maritime resources.”

“Efforts to resolve maritime disputes through threat or use of force flout these principles,” Blinken added, referring to principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

Blinken made the remarks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on maritime security on Aug. 9. The online meeting was chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“When a state faces no consequences for ignoring these rules, it fuels greater impunity and instability everywhere,” he warned.

The Chinese regime has continued to be aggressive in staking its claims in the South China Sea despite a 2016 international ruling. That year, The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s “Nine-dash line” claim to about 85 percent of the South China Sea’s 2.2 million square miles. The ruling stated that Beijing’s territorial claims were inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In March, more than 200 Chinese vessels—believed to be crewed by Beijing’s maritime militia— moored at Whitsun Reef, one of the disputed reefs, islands, and atolls in the South China Sea that are claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

The gathering of Chinese vessels drew condemnation from Vietnam and the Philippines, which both said that China had violated their territorial sovereignty. State Department spokesperson Ned Price also weighed in, calling on China to “stop using its maritime militia to intimidate and provoke others” on Twitter.

In early July, Reuters reported Beijing’s growing presence in waters around the Philippines, as Filipino fishermen complained of how they were either followed, being rammed, or blasted with water cannons by Chinese vessels.

China’s continued militarization effort in the South China Sea, including putting airfields and outposts on reefs and islands, is also making its neighbors uneasy. In July, The Washington Times reported that Beijing deployed military aircraft from islands in the disputed sea, citing satellite images the outlet obtained.

The deployment could mean that the Chinese military “may have commenced routine air operations from those airfields,” the outlet reported, quoting former Navy intelligence officer J. Michael Dahm.

Blinken also took the opportunity to say that all nations, not just claimants to the disputed sea, had a responsibility in resolving the dispute.

​​"It is the business and, even more, the responsibility of every member state to defend the rules that we’ve all agreed to follow and peacefully resolve maritime disputes,” Blinken said.

He added, “Conflict in the South China Sea or in any ocean would have serious global consequences for security and for commerce.”

The South China Sea is a major maritime trade route, accounting for about 20 to 33 percent of the global maritime trade. The sea is also rich in fish and gas reserves.

Also speaking at the meeting was Dai Bing, charge d'affaires of China’s permanent mission to the United Nations. According to China’s state-run media Xinhua, Dai accused the United States of being “politically motivated” to bring up the South China Sea during a Security Council meeting.

“The United States itself is not qualified to make irresponsible remarks on the issue of [the] South China Sea,” Dai added.

Last month, the European Union and Germany used the fifth anniversary of the South China Sea ruling, which falls on July 12, to voice support for the landmark decision. Meanwhile, Canada and the United States took the opportunity of calling out China to comply with the ruling.
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
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