There is no disputing anymore that the West Philippine Sea (WPS) has been turned into a militarized zone by China. Much has been written about it and photos will prove the extent of the military build-up in the area.
But I just want to give my two cents’ on a recent news report where US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was quoted, when interviewed on ANC, saying, “I’m not sure if it’s really fair to point a finger at the United States because we’re not doing anything. It’s China that’s taking aggressive unilateral actions in the disputed area.”
This has reference of course to a remark made by President Rodrigo Duterte sometime this year that it is the US who should be blamed for the reclamation activities done by Beijing in the WPS.
What Duterte simply meant is that had the US, as the acknowledged leader of the free world, intervened early on by calling upon China to respect and adhere with the rulings of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), aggression and expansionism by China, using its historic claims of “Nine-Dash Line” could not have happened in the SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.
Note that UNCLOS defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world’s oceans; it establishes guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
Because of UNCLOS, the Philippines made a unilateral move to sue China before the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 due to China’s aggression and incursions in the WPS which is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone (EEZ). We all know by now that the Philippines won the case against China in July 2016 when the UN court junked China’s nine-dash line claim on the entire South China Sea.
Duterte therefore was right in putting the onus on the US which, unfortunately Kim willfully ignored and refrained from disproving it.
The truth of the matter is that while the US participated in the negotiations of modifications to the treaty in the early 1990s, before it came into force in 1994, and continues to recognize the significance of UNCLOS, it has, however, failed to ratify it to this day, thus, compromising its ability to peacefully resolve SCS disputes by its non-party status to UNCLOS.
It is in this context that China took advantage of the seeming absence of the US in strongly promoting rules-based approach to governance in SCS and in the WPS, for that matter.
The seeming US nonchalance also failed to stop China’s impunity to increase its control and extend its authority in the region at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.