US-China talks are going nowhere in the South China Sea

For the second time in a month, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with China’s foreign policy chief Wang Yi, between high-level meetings between the two superpowers.

Earlier this month, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Beijing, where she met with top Chinese technologists. Former and current US Secretary of State Climate envoy John Kerry is due to visit China next week.

The latest Blinken-Wang meeting took place on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The US diplomatic chief characterized the bilateral meeting as „frank and constructive”, with both sides addressing geopolitical faults, particularly in the South China Sea.

The recent Blinken-Wang meeting came at a crucial time. Last week, the Philippines, along with its key allies, celebrated the 7th anniversary. Arbitral award at The HagueIt rejected most of China’s extensive claims in neighboring seas as inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Eager to gain confidence among its Southeast Asian neighbors, China announced Completion of Second Reading Final version of Code of Conduct (COC) aimed at more effective management of sea lions. But both the US and its regional allies are skeptical of the direction of the talks. is dragging For decades actually.

The recent high-level meeting between the two superpowers was dominated by exchanges over several grievances, starting with Taiwan. China has accused the United States of unduly meddling in regional affairs, while the Biden administration has pushed back against its Asian partners against China’s threats.

On July 13, Chinese fighter jets US Navy patrol aircraft fly through the Taiwan Strait as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducts massive war games nearby.

For its part, China’s Ministry of Commerce renewed his call The US lifted „unilateral” sanctions against leading Chinese companies just days after Yellen’s high-profile visit.

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China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has conducted live-fire exercises in the South China Sea. Image: Agencies

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is reportedly planning her own trip to Beijing to deliver the address tit-for-tat technical barriers between two superpowers.

Tensions are high following Microsoft’s latest report, which implicates Chinese government-linked hackers Access email accounts confidentially of US government officials.

„[This] This is of deep concern to us, and … we will take appropriate action to hold those responsible accountable,” a senior US State Department official said in response to recent Chinese hacking attacks on key US departments.

The Blinken-Wang meeting came shortly after Manila commemorated the anniversary of the South China Sea UNCLOS ruling, a precedent that has won renewed international support.

“As provided in UNCLOS, the decision of the arbitral tribunal shall be final and legally binding on both parties. We call on the Philippines and China to abide by its terms,” the UK Foreign Office said in a statement, underscoring its support for the Southeast Asian country.

„The UK does not take a position on competing sovereignty claims, but strongly opposes any claim inconsistent with UNCLOS. Adherence to international law, including UNCLOS, is fundamental to ensuring the continued existence of a safe, prosperous and stable South China Sea,” the statement added.

For its part, the French Embassy expressed concern China’s aggressive maneuvers against Philippine vessels in recent weeks and accordingly called on the Asian power to abide by the „July 12, 2016 arbitral award under UNCLOS”.

The European Union also issued a statement emphasizing how UNCLOS adjudicates Legally binding and indispensable for the settlement of maritime disputes.

As the only treaty partner of the Philippines, the U.S It was also decisive It upheld the 2016 arbitration ruling and warned China against „routine harassment” of smaller claimants in the South China Sea.

In response, China has accused the US of being a „gangster” and is seeking to force an arbitration case against the Asian superpower.

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„Every year on the anniversary of the illegal award, the United States ropes in allies to gang up against China, pressurize and force China to accept the award,” the Chinese embassy in Manila charged in a spirited statement. America as the real „mastermind” behind the arbitration.

However, sensing the growing pressure on the issue, China has resumed negotiations on the regional COC, projecting goodwill and peaceful intent to its neighbours.

During the recent ASEAN meeting, China’s top diplomat Wang and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudim, who hosted this year’s ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, tried to strike a positive tone on the South China Sea disputes by claiming progress in the COC negotiations.

Qin Gang, the former Chinese ambassador to Washington and China’s current foreign minister, skipped the event due to health reasons.

„China supports the development of a guidance document by all parties to speed up the COC [code of conduct] And is willing to continue to play a constructive role in the initial decision of the COC. Wang said after China and ASEAN jointly announced that the two sides had reviewed another draft of the agreement under negotiation.

However, there is deep skepticism among many observers. In the early 1990s, ASEAN countries proposed a legal COC to prevent an escalation of South China Sea disputes, particularly after Beijing seized Mischief Reef, claimed by Manila, shortly after the withdrawal of US bases near the area.

A satellite image of the 3.1 kilometer runway at work on Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, Photo: EyePress / Digital Globe

In 2002, the two parties settled on an Interim Agreement, namely the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties. South China Sea (DOC)A precursor to a strong deal down the road.

But claimant countries, especially China, Repeatedly violated The DOC emphasizes the need for „restraint” and, accordingly, to avoid any provocative action that could escalate disputes.

After protracted negotiations, both sides announced that a „draft” COC would be finalized in 2018. But a cursory glance In outline The COC framework makes it clear that China does not yet intend to commit itself to any binding document.

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In In the „Objectives” section, the draft document states „The need to establish a rules-based framework with a set of rules [author’s emphasis] Guiding the Conduct of Parties and Promoting Maritime Cooperation in the South China Sea.”

In the „Principles” section, the document suggested that „it will not be an instrument for resolving territorial disputes or maritime delimitation issues”. In short, the current COC negotiations are a repackaged version of the DOC.

There is growing concern that China is simply using the COC negotiations to militarize disputed land features in the South China Sea.

is in Washington He warned against the New Covenant This would reinforce China’s expansive claims in the region to freedom of navigation and overflying external powers.

US fears intensified in light of the reports Beijing is pushing for a COC It would (i) allow the exercise of a de facto veto over the prerogative of other claimant states to conduct naval exercises „with countries outside the region”; and (ii) engaging in joint energy exploration projects in the South China Sea „with entities from countries outside the region.”

As a result, the United States and its allies have repeatedly emphasized the need for a legal document under modern international law, namely UNCLOS.

„We are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea – an important route for global trade and connectivity – and we support ASEAN’s negotiation of a code of conduct consistent with international law,” Blinken said during a visit to Jakarta. week.

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