Date
28 July 2017
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter is leading efforts to cool the political heat over the South China Sea ruling by an international tribunal against China. Photo: Reuters
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter is leading efforts to cool the political heat over the South China Sea ruling by an international tribunal against China. Photo: Reuters

US quietly moving to ease South China Sea tensions

Washington is quickly moving to ease tensions after an international court threw out China’s claims to disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Reuters is reporting that the United States is quietly trying to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalize on the ruling.

Several US administration officials said the US wants to “quiet things down so these issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally”.

Diplomatic messages have been sent through US embassies abroad and foreign missions in Washington.

Others have been sent directly to top officials by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials, according to sources.

On Tuesday, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled that China has no historic rights to the area within its self-declared nine-dash line and that Taiwan has no right to Itu Aba, also called Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys.

But on the same day, Taiwan dispatched a warship to the area, with President Tsai Ing-wen telling sailors that their mission was to defend Taiwan’s maritime territory.

Taipei administers Itu Abu but the tribunal called it a “rock”, according to the legal definition.

China has rejected the ruling, saying it will not comply.

US officials said they hoped the US diplomatic initiative would be more successful in Indonesia, which wants to send hundreds of fishermen to the Natuna Islands to assert its sovereignty over nearby areas of the South China Sea to which China says it also has claims, and in the Philippines, whose fishermen have been harassed by Chinese coast guard and naval vessels.

One official said new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains “somewhat of an unknown quantity” who has been alternately bellicose and accommodating toward China.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that ahead of the ruling he had spoken to Carter, who he said told him China had assured the United States it would exercise restraint and that the US government made the same assurance.

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