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US reprimands China after ASEAN statement, says South China Sea is not its maritime empire

Washington/Manila: The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo rebuked China by saying that ‘China cannot be allowed to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. The member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have taken a firm stand against China, which they have mentioned in their joint statement. The US has welcomed the ASEAN statement sending China the message that it was supporting the ASEAN nations. On the sidelines of the issue, the Philippines has indicated that the Chinese activities in the South China Sea would receive retaliation henceforth.  

The US has welcomed the solidarity shown by the ASEAN nations against the Chinese bullying in the South China Sea. The US Secretary of State responded to the ASEAN statement. At the time, Pompeo reprimanded China and said, ‘The United States welcomes ASEAN Leaders’ insistence that South China Sea disputes be resolved in line with international law. China cannot be allowed to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon.’  

The 36th ASEAN Summit concluded on Friday at Vietnam under the Chairman’s statement – ‘Cohesive and Responsive ASEAN’. In a joint statement released after the Summit, the ASEAN nations firmly opposed the Chinese activities in the South China Sea. The ASEAN nations took a clear stance that stated the South China Sea disputes would be resolved in line with international laws and regulations. Furthermore, the countries fired a barrage of criticism against China, which has been indulging in provocative activities and militarization in the marine region.  

China’s activities in the South China Sea have become increasingly aggressive for the last few months. Given the Coronavirus crisis, China is bullying the smaller nations that are a part of the marine region and consistently attempting to pressurize them. The US has stepped forward to counter the Chinese activities in the South China Sea and taken steps to make massive military deployments in the region as well as in the Indo-Pacific. After the extensive US activities, even the smaller nations in the South China Sea region have begun taking an aggressive stance against China.   

The Philippines has begun activities challenging China on the South China Sea issue. A few days ago, the Philippines started new construction work on the Pagasa island and announced to temporarily cancel the suspension of the defence pact with the US. After that, the Philippine Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) took the initiative for oil exploration in the Reed Bank marine region. The departments are also claimed to have forwarded one proposal on the matter to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Previously, President Duterte had initiated moves to conduct oil exploration jointly with China. The unilateral plan from the Philippines’ departments on oil exploration, assumes much significance.  

The Philippine stance against China at the ASEAN Summit in Vietnam assumes much significance. While speaking on South China during the Summit, the Philippine President called on all nations to abide by the international law. At the same time, Duterte targeted China as he said, ‘Even at a time when our regions are struggling to contain the COVID-19, alarming incidents are occurring in the South China Sea.’ The speech of the Philippine President, who has so far always talked about maintaining friendly relations with China, appears to challenge the country openly. 

The recent happenings such as the ASEAN resolution, the support it received from the US and the open challenge from the Philippines to China, all seem to indicate that China will not be able to bully the Southeast Asian nations in the future. 

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