Published: 13:13, July 22, 2020 | Updated: 21:52, June 5, 2023
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Pompeo loves flouting international law
By Luo Gang


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's so-called South China Sea statement on July 13, in which he said China's claims to offshore resources in the South China Sea are illegal, lacks any legal basis and is intended to achieve political gains in the region rather than upholding international law.

The United States is neither a state party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)-as it doesn't want to fulfill its international maritime obligations-nor a party to the dispute in the South China Sea. Yet the US issues ludicrous statements on the use of UNCLOS as well as on dispute resolution in the region. And on the pretext of upholding international law, it conducts "freedom of navigation" operations to achieve its military and strategic goals in the region, which is nothing but a manifestation of "might makes right".

The US has been abusing international law to maintain its hegemony in the Asia-Pacific, and Pompeo's statement, which will aggravate tensions in the region, should be seen in this context.

First, Pompeo's statement is an attempt to replace international law with a new "rules-based international order", which is a threat to the United Nations-led "international order based on the rule of law". His use of "rules-based international order" is not aimed at promoting international law, but a display of power politics in the region.

The rule of law is a concept at the heart of the UN mission. In 2012, a UN declaration said "an international order based on the rule of law" is "the indispensable foundations for a more peaceful, prosperous and just world". So Pompeo's formulation of the term "rules-based international order" is a shift from the UN's concept and an attempt to conceal the US' history of violations of international law.

The US administration wants to use the "rules-based international order" as a tool to arbitrarily define what is international law and what is not, and choose laws and rules that benefit it. As such, it is resorting to double standard and abusing international law.

Second, Pompeo's statement, in contradiction to contemporary international law, undermines the balance between the rights and obligations of states. Pompeo has replaced the legal term "freedom of the high seas" from UNCLOS with a much broader term "freedom of the seas"-which Dutch diplomat and lawyer Hugo Grotius used in the 17th century-to propagate the US' predatory world view and build a global maritime empire.

UNCLOS advocates the balance between the rights and obligations of states in various maritime zones, while Pompeo's statement, by insisting blindly on "freedom of the seas", undermines such balance and obstructs the development of contemporary international law.

Third, Pompeo's statement, based on misleading information, attempts to provoke a conflict in the region. In fact, he has taken a Chinese official's remark on peaceful resolution of disputes through negotiations out of context and used it in bad faith, which is against the fundamental principle of international law.

Good faith is both a general principle of international law and a legal principle under the UNCLOS framework, overarching an entire legal order. As Mohammed Bedjaoui, former judge of the International Court of Justice, has said, "Good faith is a fundamental principle of international law, without which all international law would collapse."

In the context of competing national interests, good faith is helpful in mediating the effects of states' rights and resolving disputes. But Pompeo's statement, instead of helping settle international disputes peacefully, as prescribed by the UN Charter, is aimed at provoking interstate conflict. The US doesn't act in good faith nor does it respect the peaceful principle in international law.

Contrary to Pompeo's absurd allegations, China's sovereignty and jurisdiction over Nanhai Zhudao and its adjacent waters and relevant maritime zone are well established under international law. There are enough historical evidence to prove China was the first country to discover, name, explore and exploit Nanhai Zhudao and its adjacent waters, and the first to continuously, peacefully and effectively exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over them. The core of the South China Sea issue lies in territorial sovereignty, which is governed by the customary law of territory, not UNCLOS.

Since the South China Sea issue is highly complex and sensitive, and its peaceful resolution will test the political wisdom of the parties to the dispute, dialogue and consultation are the only ways to resolve them, and cooperation, rather than confrontation, is the only way forward to regional peace, security and stability. China has no interest in building a so-called maritime empire in the region.

And as a country from outside the region, the US has no legal grounds to poke its nose in the South China Sea issue and therefore should stop abusing international law to fulfill its narrow political goals and taking unilateral actions that will worsen the situation in the region.

The author is an associate research fellow at the China Institute for Marine Affairs.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.