“PRC has doubled its campaign to impose an order of might makes right in South China Sea”

Assistant Secretary of Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affair, David R Stilwell has said that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has doubled-down on its campaign to impose an order of “might makes right” in the South China Sea.
“In recent months, while the world has focused on the fight against COVID-19, the PRC has doubled-down on its campaign to impose an order of “might makes right” in the South China Sea. Beijing is working to undermine the sovereign rights of other coastal states and deny them access to offshore resources – resources that belong to those states, not to China,” Stilwell said in virtual interaction with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
July 12 marks the anniversary of a historic statement in the South China Sea: the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling. “This case of peaceful arbitration was brought – with real courage – by the Philippines. And the verdict was unanimous: Beijing’s Nine-Dash line maritime claim has no basis in international law,” he said.
Stilwell highlighted four important aspects of the South China Sea issue — the role of Beijing’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs); the negotiations between China and ASEAN over a Code of Conduct; Beijing’s push for “joint development” of Southeast Asian resources; and Beijing’s campaign for a seat on the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
He said, “In the South China Sea, as elsewhere, Beijing has used state-owned enterprises as tools of economic coercion and international abuse. They have been used to dredge, construct, and militarise the PRC’s artificial island fortresses in the Spratlys, from which Beijing now violates the exclusive economic zones of Southeast Asian states. One of Beijing’s leading infrastructure contractors that works all around the world – China Construction and Communications Corporation, or CCCC – led the dredging for Beijing’s South China Sea military bases, with terribly destructive effects on the marine environment and regional stability.”
“Other PRC commercial survey ships and rigs have been sent repeatedly into Southeast Asian waters in which China has no rights. Numerous PRC state-owned tourism, telecom, fisheries and banking firms invest in ways to enable Beijing’s unlawful claims and bullying. PRC fishing fleets in the South China Sea often operate as a maritime militia under the direction of China’s military, harassing and intimidating others as a tool of violent state coercion,” he added.
On Code of Conduct talks, Stilwell said, “There are clear red flags about Beijing’s intentions. For years Beijing has insisted that ASEAN states keep silent on the proceedings. Behind closed doors, the PRC has pushed ASEAN states to accept limits on core matters of national interest. These include limits on who ASEAN states can partner with for military exercises and offshore oil and gas work. Beijing is also pressuring ASEAN nations to cut ties with “outside” states and to dilute references to international law. These are demands of a bully, not a friendly neighbour.”
He urged greater transparency in the Code of Conduct process to ensure a positive outcome that is fully consistent with the principles enshrined in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
On the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, Stilwell said that Beijing is running an uncontested candidate for a judge’s position on this tribunal at an election slated for late August/early September.
Urging countries involved in the upcoming International Tribunal election to carefully assess the credentials of the PRC candidate, he said, “Like the Arbitral Tribunal that ruled against Beijing in 2016, the International Tribunal is established under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Electing a PRC official to this body is like hiring an arsonist to help run the Fire Department.”
“Aggressive behaviour is Beijing’s general approach to international organisations. When the South China Sea came up at an ASEAN meeting in 2010, Beijing’s top diplomat thundered at his Southeast Asian counterparts saying: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.” This sort of contempt helps explain Beijing’s subversion of international institutions from the World Health Organisation to Interpol, the World Trade Organization and beyond,” he added.