US launch diplomacy to ease South China Sea tensions

The United States is using quiet diplomacy to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalise on an international court ruling that denied China’s claims to the South China Sea.

The US administration office said, “What we want is to quiet things down so these issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally.”

Some of the diplomatic information were sent through US embassies abroad and foreign missions in Washington, while others were conveyed directly to top officials by Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials.

A statement also from the US administration office stressed that, “This is a blanket call for quiet, not some attempt to rally the region against China, which would play into a false narrative that the US is leading a coalition to contain China.”

Court ruling
The effort to calm the waters following the court ruling in The Hague on Tuesday suffered a setback when Taiwan dispatched a warship to the area, with President Tsai Ing-wen telling sailors that their mission was to defend Taiwan’s maritime territory.

The court ruled that while China has no historic rights to the area within its self-declared nine-dash line, Taiwan has no right to Itu Aba, also called Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys.

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

According to the US it hoped 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.

Unknown quantity
It is believe that the new Philippine, President Rodrigo Duterte remains “somewhat of an unknown quantity” who has been alternately aggressive and accommodating toward China.

Philippine Defence 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.

Carter had sought and been given the same assurance from the Philippines, Lorenzana added.

China, for its part, repeated pleas for talks between Beijing and Manila, with Foreign Minister, Wang Yi saying that it is time to get things back on the “right track” after the “farce” of the case.

The court ruling is expected to dominate a meeting at the end of July in Laos of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, and his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang, will attend the ministerial.

Sino-American relations suffered two fresh blows on Wednesday as a congressional committee found China’s government likely hacked computers at the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the United States challenged China’s export duties on nine metals and minerals that are important to the aerospace, auto, electronics and chemical industries.