South China Sea: Biden Administration Renews Trump's Rejection of China's Territorial Claims

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a joint news conference in London, Britain, May 3, 2021. (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Pool via Reuters)

The Biden administration renewed its support for a Trump-era policy rejecting the Chinese regime’s territorial claims on the South China Sea.

In a press statement released Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned China’s expansion in the South China sea and aggression towards Southeast Asian coastal states, defending freedom of navigation and the Philippines’ right to its previously determined “exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.”

The notice echoed the former administration’s concern that Beijing is abandoning “rules-based maritime order” and repudiating international law by encroaching on smaller independent states in the region.

It warned that an assault perpetrated by China on Philippine ships, aircraft, or personnel would necessitate U.S. military intervention on its ally’s behalf, per Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.

“The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Blinken wrote in reference to the statement drafted by his predecessor, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo had accused China of attempting to assert its dominance over the South China sea at the expense of its neighbors, using “bullying” to control offshore resources and treating the sea like its “maritime empire.”

Blinken’s reaffirmation of the Trump policy means that it still deems illegitimate and unlawful all of China’s claims outside its internationally recognized waters.

Before the Trump administration solidified its position on China’s maritime antagonism, the United States had encouraged China and disputing states to appeal to the UN to sort out their grievances and find resolution.

China has declared almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea its sovereign territory. In recent years, the regime has erected military fortifications on several islands.

The Chinese reacted negatively to Pompeo’s announcement in 2020, with the Chinese Embassy in Washington calling his allegations “completely unjustified” and accusing the United States of “stirring up tension and inciting confrontation” in a zone that does not concern its interests.

Blinken’s resumption of the Pompeo precedent falls on the fifth anniversary of the Arbitral Tribunal unanimous decision to deny China’s maritime claims as having no foundation or justification in international law.

“The PRC and the Philippines, pursuant to their treaty obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention, are legally bound to comply with this decision,” Blinken said.

“We call on (China) to abide by its obligations under international law, cease its provocative behavior, and take steps to reassure the international community that it is committed to the rules-based maritime order that respects the rights of all countries, big and small,” the statement urged.

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