USA Voice - China sea claims exceed UNCLOS limit

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the United States' failure to approve the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has weakened its advocacy for allies in the disputed South China Sea.

She said China's claims in those waters exceeded what was permitted by the convention. She was speaking at a hearing Wednesday of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where she and top military leaders offered an impassioned plea for the US to join the pact.

To China's chagrin, the Obama administration has asserted since 2010 that although the US is not itself a claimant state in the South China Sea, it has an interest              in the peaceful resolution of the disputes and in the freedom of navigation in waters that carry a large chunk of global trade  Clinton said the US supported the countries "being threatened" by China's claims.

"As a non-party, we cede the legal high ground to China. We put ourselves on the defensive," she said.

"We are not as strong an advocate for our friends and allies in the region as I would like us to be, and I don't think that's any place for the world's preeminent maritime power to find ourselves."

China is among the more than 160 nations that are party to the convention. Its expansive claims in the South China Sea are disputed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines, a US treaty ally.

The convention was concluded in 1982 and has been in force since 1994.

Republican opposition has stalled US approval for years, although the military says it still acts in accordance with the pact's principles.

Despite considerable bipartisan support and the backing of pro-business groups, Democrat committee chairman Senator John Kerry acknowledged the difficulty in moving the treaty, especially in an election year in the United States. Several Republican lawmakers voiced opposition to the convention on Wednesday.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said US endorsement would strengthen US security interests as it would provide clarity in definition of navigational rights and maritime zones—at a time of growing competition for resources.

"And from that clarity comes stability. And as we now begin to re-balance our security interests into the Pacific, this becomes very important," Dempsey said.

Democrat Senator Barbara Boxer criticized Beijing's claims in the South China Sea.

She produced a map to show the claims extended far beyond China's own 200-mile exclusive economic zone and amounted to a "significant territorial grab that comes very close to the land borders of countries in the region."

She referred to the standoff at the Scarborough Shoal that began last month when the Philippine Navy accused Chinese fishermen of poaching within its exclusive zone.

The Philippines accused China on Wednesday of sending more government and fishing vessels to the uninhabited, horseshoe-shaped shoal. Manila says China has a total of 96 ships, fishing boats and dinghies there, while the Philippines has two.

China denied the accusation.

Chinese foreign ministry official Hong Lei said there were only about 20 Chinese fishing boats operating in the contested area, roughly unchanged as in previous years, according to a report by the Chinese newspaper People's Daily.

Hong said China's strengthened controls in the Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) waters was in response to the provocative actions of the Philippines, adding that their fishing boats were operating lawfully and in accordance with China's fishing moratorium orders.

Read more in Manila Standards

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