The Philippines welcomed a US State Department study dismissing China’s unlawful claims in the South China Sea and affirming the 2016 arbitral award that invalidated Beijing’s massive claim that encroaches on the waters of its smaller neighbors like the Philippines.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said: “This is consistent with the Philippines-US Joint Vision Statement issued on 16 November 2021, which states that the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea are inconsistent with the international law of the sea.”

The DFA maintained that the July 12, 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands “is legally binding on the Philippines and the PRC.”

In its most recent study, the State Department said that China asserts unlawful maritime claims in most of the South China Sea, including an unlawful historic rights claim.

Washington’s recent statement further bolsters international recognition of the ruling, which was ignored by China, the DFA said.

“Since 2014, the PRC has continued to assert claims to a wide swath of the South China Sea as well as to what the PRC has termed ‘internal waters’ and ‘outlying archipelagos,’ all of which are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention,” the State Department said.

With the release of this latest study, Washington has called on China to conform its maritime claims to international law as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to comply with the decision of the arbitral tribunal, and to cease its unlawful and coercive activities in the South China Sea.

China insists ownership of nearly 90 percent of the waters even as it overlaps with the territories of its rival claimants like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan.
The South China Sea — dotted by a cluster of islands, reefs, shoals, and coral outcrops — is sitting atop rich oil and mineral reserves and straddles one of the world’s vital sea lanes.
Competing claims to the waters and its resources have long been feared as Asia’s next potential flashpoint for a major armed conflict.

But Beijing rejected the findings of the United States State Department saying that China’s claims in the South China Sea are “unlawful” and “gravely undermines the rule of law” in the oceans.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the US is not even a signatory of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and sets “double standards” by invoking UNCLOS provisions on China.

The US is not a claimant state of the disputed South China Sea territory. Aside from the Philippines and China, other claimant states of the oil-rich disputed territories are Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

“The US refuses to join the Convention but styles itself as the judge. It wantonly misrepresents the Convention and adopts double standards out of selfish gains.

Such political manipulation is irresponsible and undermines international rule of law,” Wang said during a media conference in Beijing.

The report comes as a research paper published recently by the US State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environment, which echoed the decision handed out by a United Nations arbitral tribunal in 2016.

The US State Department has been examining maritime claims of coastal states all over the world since 1970s to “assess their consistency with international law.”