Biden administration announces continuation of previous administration’s South China Sea policy, finds most of Beijing’s sovereignty claims illegitimate

The Biden administration has announced a continuation of the former Trump administration’s policy on sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, continuing its determination that China’s claims to most of the South China Sea are completely illegitimate.

The Chinese military said on Monday (July 12, 2021) that “the United States is an uncompromising security risk maker in the South China Sea” and accused the guided-missile destroyer USS Benford of “trespassing into the territorial waters of Xisha” that day, which was tracked, monitored and driven away by the People’s Liberation Army.

Secretary of State John Blinken issued a statement Sunday (July 11, 2021) commemorating the international tribunal’s arbitration five years ago of a lawsuit brought by the Philippines over China’s sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. That arbitration found that China’s nine-dash line maritime claim to the vast expanse of the sea was inconsistent with international law. China and the Philippines are legally bound by the ruling under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Blinken’s statement said the U.S. reaffirmed its policy announced on July 13, 2020, against maritime claims in the South China Sea and reiterated its obligation to take joint action under the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 if there is an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, government vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea.

On the fourth anniversary of the international tribunal’s ruling, Secretary of State Pompeo issued a statement on July 13 last year, clearly declaring that the U.S. considers Beijing’s claim to offshore resources covering most of the South China Sea to be “completely illegitimate” and condemning Beijing’s use of the “might makes right” intimidation tactic to undermine Southeast Asian countries. The statement also condemned Beijing’s use of “might makes right” intimidation tactics to undermine the sovereignty of Southeast Asian countries. That statement also said that the United States stands with its Southeast Asian allies and partners to assert their sovereignty over offshore resources in accordance with their rights and obligations under international law.

That was the first time the United States explicitly rejected most of China’s sovereignty claims over the South China Sea. Until then, Washington’s consistent position had been to advocate that disputing states resolve their disputes peacefully through negotiations in accordance with international law and practice, and that the United States has no sovereignty claims over the South China Sea and does not take sides with states making conflicting sovereignty claims.

Following the Pompeo-led U.S. State Department’s South China Sea policy statement last year, Chinese authorities reacted, saying “the United States is not a party to the South China Sea and related disputes, yet it has frequently intervened in the South China Sea issue.” The statement “urged the United States to effectively abide by its commitment to take no position on the issue of territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea” and “to stop being a disturber, spoiler and stirrer of regional peace and stability.”

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the international tribunal’s ruling, Beijing reiterated last Friday that it does not accept the ruling.