US pitches for ASEAN unity on South China Sea ruling


The escalation of geopolitical tensions in Asia-Pacific continues to rise as the US has warned China of rising damage to its reputation if it ignores an international court ruling on the South China Sea. The US made a strong case urging Southeast Asian countries to rally behind the court decision.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected to announce a ruling on the dispute in a South China Sea case in the next few weeks. The Philippines brought a case against China’s claim of all of the South China Sea, a strategic route for a quarter of the world’s trade and oil.

It is expected that the ruling will favour the Philippines and risks significantly raising regional tensions. China, although a signatory of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea under which the case is being heard, rejects the court’s authority to hear it. US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a House of Representatives hearing that China “can’t have it both ways”. He said that it cannot be a party to the convention but rejecting its provisions, including “the binding nature of any arbitration decision”.

“China has a decision to make”, Mr Blinken said. “If it ignores the decision … it risks doing terrible damage to its reputation, further alienating countries in the region and pushing them even closer to the United States”, he added.

The US has been making a strong pitch to convince countries to state that the court’s ruling, expected in late May or early June, must be binding. The court’s decisions have been ignored in the past. Mr Blinken said that the US had worked hard to build up ASEAN as an organisation that “might feel some greater strength in numbers”. It aims to take on difficult issues like the South China Sea.