By Roy Mabasa
The United States on Thursday made it clear that it will stand up and defend the rule of law if and when China’s behavior in the South China Sea becomes out of step.
Brian Hook, a senior policy adviser to US State Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said the US does not accept unilateral actions by South China Sea claimants aimed at changing the status quo while issues of sovereignty remain unresolved.
“China’s provocative militarization of the South China Sea is one area where China is contesting international law. They’re pushing around smaller states in ways that put strains on the global system, and their actions also undermine core principles of sovereignty, which are very dear to us,” Hook told some 40 journalists from East Asia and the Pacific who participated in a media teleconferencing.
According to Hook, the actions that the US is taking, as the leading proponent of a rules-based system, is “to exercise freedom of navigation and overflight, to the freedoms of assembly and expression online.”
“These are all the things that we will enforce. And so we fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits. And so, that is what I would say just about the South China Sea aspect,” he said.
He added that the US believes that China’s rise cannot come at the expense of the values and rules-based order, which is “the foundation of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and it’s also around the world.”
“When China’s behavior is out of step with these values and these rules, we will stand up and defend the rule of law,” Hook said.
In all the high-level South China Sea-related meetings he had attended under the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, Hook said the US was very clear about what its interests are and back it up through freedom of navigation operations.
The Diplomatic Security Dialogue is co-chaired by Tillerson and US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
“We let them know that we will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. And we’ve also been very clear with China that we don’t accept unilateral actions by claimants aimed at changing the status quo while issues of sovereignty remain unresolved,” the State Department adviser said.
Hook’s statement came a day after US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim reiterated Washington’s position that it is “fully committed” to defend the Philippines in the event of a foreign attack.
“We are fully committed to our alliance with the Philippines. There is absolutely no ambiguity about our commitment to defend the Philippines should a foreign force attack the Philippines,” Kim said.