Thayer Consultancy

ABN # 65 648 097 123

Background Briefing: US Secretary of State on Settlement of South China Sea Disputes Carlyle A. Thayer July 12, 2012

[client name deleted] The extracts below are from prepared remarks Secretary Hillary Clinton is scheduled to make today regarding the South China Sea. What is your assessment of her reference to, "territorial issues should be resolved between the claimants..."? To quote Clinton:
…Third, on maritime security. In Bali, our leaders discussed the importance of achieving a collaborative solution on the South China Sea. The United States has no territorial claims there and we do not take sides in disputes about territorial or maritime boundaries. But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, and unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea. And we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats, and without use of force. I’ll have more to say about this later today at the ASEAN Regional Forum. But I want to underscore one point. Whenever possible, territorial issues should be resolved between the claimants. But broader questions about conduct in disputed areas and about acceptable methods of resolving disputes should be addressed in multilateral settings such as the ASEAN Regional Forum. Issues such as freedom of navigation and lawful exploitation of maritime resources often involve a wide region, and approaching them strictly bilaterally could be a recipe for confusion and even confrontation..."

ANSWER: This is a long-standing policy of the US and all other claimant states to islands and rocks in the South China Sea. Sovereignty disputes over territory can only be resolved by the parties directly concerned. They can negotiate and agree on a settlement. Or they can agree to take their dispute to some form of international arbitration (International Court of Justice) and agree to abide by the arbiter's/court's decision. The entire effort behind the Code of Conduct, which is captured in Secretary Clinton's remarks below, is to govern state behaviour until sovereignty disputes over territory are resolved. The stress is that they should not be solved by force or threat of force. It is hard to get the disputants to agree to negotiate when they adopt the postures that China and the Philippines have adopted. China (and Taiwan) claims "indisputable sovereignty" over all the islands and rocks in one breath and then offer

2 to negotiate bilaterally on the other. The Philippines phrases this differently: what is ours is ours what is not ours can be jointly developed.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “US Secretary of State on Settlement of South China Sea Disputes,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, July 12, 2012.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful