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Tensions in the area have been ramped up in recent times by military drills in South China Sea waters by both US and Chinese forces. It is said China claims around 90 percent of the South China Sea, leading to tensions between nations such as Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines, all of which contest these claims to some extent.
Now, the UK, France, and Germany have issued a joint statement disputing what they called China’s “historic rights” in the South China Sea.
The three countries brought forth the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also called UNCLOS, on which to base their arguments.
They highlighted “freedom of navigation and overflight, and of the right of innocent passage” through the South China Sea.
The letter states: “France, Germany and the United Kingdom also highlight that claims with regard to the exercise of ‘historic rights’ over the South China Sea waters do not comply with international law and UNCLOS provisions and recall that the arbitral award in the Philippines V. China case dating to 12 July 2016 clearly confirms this point.
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom hold that all maritime claims in the South China Sea should be made and peacefully resolved in accordance with the principles and rules of UNCLOS and the means and procedures for the settlement of disputes provided for in the Convention.”
All three countries insist their position on the South China Sea is “without prejudice” and that they “take no position” on territorial disputes in the region.
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In May this year, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office reaffirmed its nonpartisan position on South China Sea disputes.
It repeated the assertion that all parties involved should “settle their disputes peacefully” and through legal bases.
However, it said Britain “challenges” China on disagreements relating to the UNCLOS agreement, of which China is part.
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China’s foreign ministry appears not to have issued a reply to the letter at the time of writing.
Earlier this year, the US declared a more strongly-worded stance on the South China Sea, accusing China of “bullying” to control resources in the region.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States seeks “to preserve peace and stability” as well as maintain trade through the region – estimated to be worth over $3.3 trillion in 2016 by ChinaPower.
Mr Pompeo continued: “Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right.’
“Beijing has offered no coherent legal basis for its “Nine-Dashed Line” claim in the South China Sea since formally announcing it in 2009.”
Specifically, Mr Pompeo denounced China’s alleged claims to the underwater James Shoal near Malaysia, and accused Beijing of harassing Philippine fisheries within the latter’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Chinese embassy in the US responded by calling Mr Pompeo’s claims “completely unjustified” and accused the US of “stirring up tension.”
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