Guam delegate calls on China to honor ruling in Philippines' favor
Guam’s voice in Congress is calling on China to respect Tuesday’s international tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines over some of the disputed territories in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration, established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, ruled Tuesday, July 12 that China doesn’t have a valid claim to the Spratly Islands.
The ruling was based on what the tribunal called the “constitution for the oceans,” which was adopted by 168 countries, including China.
China hasn’t participated in the proceedings, according to the tribunal.
“China’s lack of participation in the process and outright rejection of the ruling, even before it was made, is particularly concerning,” said Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, who sits as ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, in a written statement.
“China must be a responsible actor that respects the rule of law, even when decisions are not made in its favor,” Bordallo said. “I hope the Chinese government will ultimately respect the ruling and work cooperatively with all parties to resolve outstanding claims. Peaceful resolution requires a fully inclusive process.”
The tribunal’s 501-page report includes a map showing the Philippine island group, called Palawan, is closest to Spratly’s main islands, and that the coastlines of several other countries, including Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, are closer to the Spratly Islands than China.
The court ruled unanimously that China has no historical rights to landmasses or territorial waters in the region, and noted the severe environmental damage caused by Chinese reclamation activities, according to Bordallo.
“This landmark ruling is a triumph for rule of law and validates claims by the Philippines,” Bordallo said. “The U.S. will continue to stand behind our long-time treaty ally.”
Tony Babauta, who’s challenging Bordallo in the congressional race for the Democratic Party Primary next month, said “Guam should absolutely be mindful that there was a ruling handed down by a United Nations-backed tribunal.”
“Guam is home to significant U.S. military assets and its proximity to the region keeps our military units on alert,” said Babauta, a former Department of the Interior assistant secretary.
“We should anticipate that U.S. presence will continue to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the South China Sea,” according to Babauta. “Additionally, I would expect that there will be greater diplomatic pressure put on China to abide by the UN ruling.”
U.S. ‘not taking sides’
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said while the Obama administration was still reviewing the 500-page decision, “this tribunal ruling is final and binding on both parties.”
However, Earnest said, United States is “not taking sides in the claims, but we do strongly urge all parties with relevant claims — many of which are competing — to resolve their differences peacefully and through established processes like arbitration.” Earnest made the statement in a press interview July 12 after the ruling was announced, according to a transcript on whitehouse.gov.
The U.S. military has previously sent ships and planes in international waters and airspace around the disputed areas.
Earnest said the U.S. actions are meant “to preserve the freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in that region of the world.”
“The South China Sea is a strategically important region of the world. It also is a route for billions of dollars in commerce,” Earnest said. “And it’s important to the U.S. economy ... that that flow of commerce not be significantly disrupted.”
China isn’t just claiming areas closer to other countries in the South China Sea; China is influencing the economies of island nations and territories to counter the U.S. military’s “forward presence” in the Asia Pacific, according to a March 2016 research report by Kristien Bergerson, senior policy analyst, for the U.S.-China Policy Economic and Security Review Commission.
The perceived threat to China from the U.S. and its allies is perhaps best summed up by Senior Captain Xu Qi, a Chinese naval officer writing in an authoritative military journal, Bergerson wrote. The Chinese naval officer wrote, according to Bergerson, that “China’s heartland faces the sea ... [and the] United States has deployed strong forces in the Western Pacific and has formed a system of military bases …with a strategic posture involving Japan and South Korea as the northern anchors, Australia and the Philippines as the southern anchors, and with Guam positioned as the forward base.”
The U.S. military has called Guam its “tip of the spear.”
Beijing is concerned that the military expansions in Guam, and the proposed development of a training range in the Northern Marianas, according to Bergerson’s report, are “directed against China.”
“While Beijing is concerned about the U.S. military footprint, China’s tourism industry has been acquiring hotels and apartment buildings in Palau and hotel and casino development projects in Saipan, as well as establishing Chinese-operated tour organizations in the (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands),” Bergerson wrote.
“Chinese investments in real estate in the CNMI and the presence of Chinese workers, tourists, or business people could provide cover for clandestine surveillance of U.S. facilities, training, logistics, or troop rotations,” according to Bergerson.
The U.S. allowed visa-free travel of Chinese tourists into the CNMI, but hasn’t allowed the same process for Guam.
“The United States can expect continued Chinese investments in the region if Beijing perceives that some amount of access, influence, and information acquisition is being achieved,” the analyst wrote.
Part of the military expansion in Guam stems from the U.S.-Japan agreement to reduce the presence of U.S. Marines on Okinawa by moving about 5,000 of them to Guam.
Bergerson wrote that “as with Guam, Beijing is likewise concerned about the U.S. force projection capability on Okinawa.”
China’s attempts to shape Japanese behavior through economic coercion have not been very successful, the analyst wrote.
The analyst cites James Reilly, a senior lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, who noted that in response to Chinese “consumer boycotts and economic pressure,” Japan strengthened its cooperation with other Asian neighbors, signed a fisheries accord with Taiwan, and secured statements of support from the United States.”
The analyst also cited Japanese press reports, which indicate Chinese investors have acquired property near U.S. military facilities on Okinawa.
“China likely maintains a presence of intelligence officers and agitators to both collect intelligence against the U.S. military presence on (Okinawa) and complicate aspects of the U.S.-Japan alliance by participating in anti-base activities,” Bergerson wrote.