Taiwan Welcomes US Rejection of Beijing’s Territorial Claims in the South China Sea

July 14, 2020 Updated: July 14, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan—Taiwan’s foreign ministry welcomed a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejecting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Joanne Ou, spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on July 14 that she welcomed any related countries to issue statements that are in accordance with international laws, while reasserting Taiwan’s territorial claims in the disputed sea, according to Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency.

“Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” Pompeo said in a statement issued on Monday.

The statement also marked a shift in Washington’s policy on the disputed waterway, taking a more aggressive stance against Beijing compared to past calls for China and its neighbors to resolve the disputed claims peacefully.

Islands, reefs, and rocks in the South China Sea are claimed by a number of countries in the region, including Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Beijing has used the “nine-dash line” to proclaim sovereignty over 90 percent of the South China Sea, even as a United Nations legal judgment in 2016 refuted Beijing’s claims, after the Philippines brought the dispute to international court.

Beijing has in recent years sought to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway by building military outposts on artificial islands and reefs. In addition, it has also deployed coast guard ships and Chinese fishing boats to intimidate foreign vessels, block access to waterways, and seize shoals and reefs.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region,” Pompeo said in the statement.

Similar to Beijing, the self-ruled island claims much of the South China Sea as part of its territory, but has taken a more restrained approach.

Ou said that Taiwan opposes any countries that try to resolve the disputes through coercion, threats, or military force.

She also reiterated President Tsai Ing-wen’s longstanding position on the issue, the so-called four principles and five actions that she first proposed in July 2016.

Among the four principles is that Taiwan be included in any multilateral mechanisms to resolve disputes in the South China Sea and that all concerned states uphold the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

Taiwan was previously blocked from participating in international negotiations, in part due to Beijing’s pressure.

China has reacted angrily to Pompeo’s statement. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accused the United States of “intentionally stirring up territorial disputes” and “damaging regional peace and stability.”

The Chinese Embassy in the United States also issued a statement, accusing the U.S. State Department of “deliberately distorting the facts and international laws.”

Also on Tuesday, Filipino presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on state-run television that The Philippines will maintain friendly ties with China, even though Beijing rejected Manila’s call to recognize the 2016 U.N. court ruling, according to the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

On July 12, the four-year anniversary of the U.N. arbitration ruling, Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. called on Beijing to adhere to the ruling, saying that it was “non-negotiable.”

The following day, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said the ruling was “illegal and invalid” in a statement on its website.

Several U.S. lawmakers applauded Pompeo’s statement.

“We fully support the administration’s decision to clarify the United States’ position that China’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea are unlawful,” Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in a joint statement.

The four lawmakers concluded: “We hope this decision will lead to further efforts by the United States, our partners, and all members of the international community to better align support for international law with respect to the South China Sea.”

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer