The South China Sea
Secretary of State
We commend this week’s announcement that ASEAN and China have agreed on implementing guidelines to facilitate confidence building measures and joint projects in the South China Sea. This is an important first step toward achieving a Code of Conduct and reflects the progress that can be made through dialogue and multilateral diplomacy. We look forward to further progress.
The United States is encouraged by this recent agreement because as a Pacific nation and resident power we have a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime domain, the maintenance of peace and stability, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.
We oppose the threat or use of force by any claimant in the South China Sea to advance its claims or interfere with legitimate economic activity. We share these interests not only with ASEAN members and ASEAN Regional Forum participants, but with other maritime nations and the broader international community.
The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various disputes in the South China Sea. We also support the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. But we do not take a position on the competing territorial claims over land features in the South China Sea. We believe all parties should pursue their territorial claims and accompanying rights to maritime space in accordance with international law, including as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.
The United States is concerned that recent incidents in the South China Sea threaten the peace and stability on which the remarkable progress of the Asia-Pacific region has been built. These incidents endanger the safety of life at sea, escalate tensions, undermine freedom of navigation, and pose risks to lawful unimpeded commerce and economic development.
In keeping with the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration, each of the parties should comply with their commitments to respect freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, to resolve their disputes through peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force. They should exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from taking action to inhabit presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features, and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.
The United States encourages all parties to accelerate efforts to reach a full Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
We also call on all parties to clarify their claims in the South China Sea in terms consistent with customary international law, including as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention. Consistent with international law, claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features.