In a Chinese effort to undermine an international tribunal before it rules July 12 on the country’s territorial dispute with the Philippines, China’s assistant foreign minister has warned other Asian and European leaders not to discuss the South China Sea at a summit in Mongolia at the end of the week.
Even though the Asia-Europe Meeting is held every one to two years to discuss matters between Asia and Europe, Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou indicated that talk of the South China Sea dispute, which also involves the United States and Japan, would not be welcomed at the event.
“The ASEM leaders summit is not a suitable place to discuss the South China Sea,” Mr. Kong said in a news briefing. “There are no plans to discuss it on the agenda for the meeting. And it should not be put on the agenda.”
He said if there are tensions in the South China Sea, it’s because certain countries outside the region have displayed shows of force and interference, an apparent reference to the United States. The US has increased its military presence there, and has conducted freedom-of-navigation patrols near Chinese-held islands.
“There is no reason to get the South China Sea issue in this ASEM meeting citing freedom of navigation and security interests as causes of concern,” added Kong. “It’s got no leg to stand on.”
Kong’s warning is one of several attempts by China to get ahead of the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling, which is expected to be released on Tuesday. China’s increasing opposition to the forthcoming ruling is further indication of the dispute's economic and military significance to all the countries in the region.
China lays claim to virtually all of the South China Sea in the so-called nine-dash line. China’s territorial claim is not only to display its rising global power, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported, but also could benefit its three major oil companies. The oil companies have pressured Beijing to allow them to drill farther past established Chinese waters, according to an International Crisis Group report published in January.
The Hague-based international tribunal will rule on a 2013 case brought forward by the government of former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. Manila challenged China’s claims in the nine-dash line, in particular because it infringes upon Manila’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. There, an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes through it each year, according to the Associated Press. The disputed waters are also home to fisheries, as well as oil, gas, and other resources.
Beyond the details of the claims the tribunal will rule on, the South China Sean dispute has become a testing ground for China to challenge US clout in Asia.
Beijing wants to use this dispute to show how "China's own growing maritime power and its economic significance to the United States and the global economy have reached the point where the United States can no longer afford to stand up to China," Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at The Australian National University, told the Associated Press. "That calculation might prove to be wrong."
China’s strong rhetoric, however, will not likely translate to aggressive action, Bonnie Glaser, senior advocate for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told the Associated Press. It wants to avoid the topic dominating the agenda at ASEM or other multilateral forums, she said.
This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.