China tells off US for 'making trouble' in the South China Sea

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Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 7) – Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian is displeased with the United States' presence in the South China Sea, flagging that these outsiders should stop "trying to make trouble" in the region.

The Chinese envoy on Friday blasted American presence in the disputed waters, saying it was disruptive to efforts among Asian neighbors to keep the peace.

"While we talk about as US outsiders, we expect outsiders to respect the efforts of regional countries in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea. It’s a regret that we have seen US meddling vigorously in the South China Sea issue," Huang told CNN Philippines' The Source on Friday, adding America broke its promise on not taking a side on the issue.

An international tribunal in The Hague invalidated Beiing’s sweeping territorial stakes in the South China Sea and recognized Manila’s sovereign rights in areas within its exclusive economic zone which China claims.

The US Navy conducted two massive drills in the South China Sea in July, sending two aircraft carriers in a move condemned by China, which claims almost the entire global waterway. The Philippines did not participate in these joint exercises on President Rodrigo Duterte's order.

While the US does not claim any part of the South China Sea, it conducts freedom of navigation operations and recently tightened its policy on such international disputes. US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim wrote last month that it stands with the Philippines and other Southeast Asian partners in upholding a "rules-based order" which acknowledges the July 2016 tribunal ruling.

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"We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them," US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also said in a statement last month announcing the strengthening of US policy on maritime claims in the disputed waterway.

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For the Chinese diplomat, Washington has been hounding the South China Sea dispute by "showing its muscles" and taking the side of other claimant states.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and self-governing Taiwan also have their own territorial claims in the South China Sea.

"In the first half of this year, the US has come up with more than 200 military aircrafts to this region, not to mention its carriers and warships. Who is provocating the situation in the South China Sea? It’s very clear," he said, adding the foreign power stands in the way of consultations for a common Code of Conduct in the disputed waters.

"China and the Philippines are like family members. It's normal for family members to have differences, but if an outsider, a neighbor comes to assist us that’s fine... But if they come to say 'please fight against each other,' then we have to question their purpose. Do they want the peace in this region or they want to make South China Sea as a political game for the geopolitical purpose?," the Chinese official added.

Tensions between China and the US have been heating up in recent weeks, with the closure of consular offices in Chengdu as well as in Houston. Prior to the pandemic, the two nations were looking to resolve issues on a tariff war.

Meanwhile, Huang welcomed the Philippines' decision to sit out of joint naval drills in these waters. He again stressed that it is best for Beijing and Manila to "shelve" differences and agree to disagree about conflicting claims.

He again dismissed the validity of the July 2016 ruling of the "so-called" arbitral tribunal, disputing how it can be enforced.

"If we look at the arbitral ruling literally, what is arbitration? Arbitration is something agreed by both parties directly concerned – only by doing so it can be called arbitration. The ruling itself is a ruling without the agreement from the other side, so we may not call it arbitral ruling," the envoy said.

Duterte has maintained that his administration will keep an independent foreign policy, but he's been criticized for holding back on enforcing the arbitral award for the sake of warmer ties with China. Legal experts said going to war is not the only option as the President insists that the Philippines will just set aside its claims for now as it cannot afford an armed conflict with Beijing.

READ: Increased military spending, minimum credible defense pushed amid China’s incursions in West PH Sea

In previous instances, China has been spotted building infrastructure on features claimed by the Philippines and turning away Filipino fishermen at sea. In June 2019, a Chinese vessel rammed the Filipino boat Gem-Ver and left the fishermen swimming for their lives, who were later on rescued by a passing Vietnamese vessel.

Compensation is yet to be given to the fishermen more than a year since the incident. Huang said authorities are still waiting for a counter-proposal from the Philippines as to how much reparations the fishermen should receive.

Meanwhile, Huang said he anticipates that by end-2021, long-delayed discussions can be wrapped up and an agreement can be reached on a code of conduct in the South China Sea. The code is expected to spell out what actions countries and vessels can or cannot do in in the South China Sea.