The British Are Coming… To the South China Sea

Plus, Vietnam gets to reclaiming land in the Spratly Islands and Taiwan celebrates 70 years of Taiping Island.

The British Are Coming… To the South China Sea
Credit: Ozzy Delaney via Flickr

A few South China Sea stories that you may have missed over the past week:

The British are coming. The United Kingdom is set to grow more involved in the South China Sea. Speaking last week in Washington D.C., the U.K. ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, outlined the United Kingdom’s plans to get increasingly involved in the tense skies over the South China Sea.

“Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers onstream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defense forces, they will be seen in the Pacific,” Darroch said. “And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.” He was speaking at an event last Thursday, with Japan’s ambassador in attendance, according to Reuters.

After a five-judge tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in the Philippines’ favor against China in the first significant international legal ruling on the South China Sea, the United Kingdom came out strongly in favor of the ruling. Before the ruling, Hugo Swire, the U.K. minister of state for East Asia, said the U.K. saw the ruling as binding on the parties, both of whom have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Vietnam gets to reclaimin’. One of the points I highlighted yesterday in my rundown of Marco Rubio’s new bill proposing sanctions against China for land reclamation in the South China Sea is that it ignored activities by other claimants, to the detriment of reinforcing norms. On Thursday, a Reuters report underlined that point, noting that Vietnam had started dredging work at Ladd Reef in the Spratlys. Hanoi’s activities risk raising tensions with China. Before Beijing started its breakneck pace land reclamation and artificial island-building activities in the Spratlys, other claimant nations had already fortified their military outposts there. China’s unusually quick pace and ambitious scope drew attention, understandably, but that doesn’t mean that other claimants’ activities don’t merit scrutiny.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

70 years of Itu Aba. Taiwan is gearing up to commemorate the 70th anniversary of “recovering” Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, in the Spratly Islands. The feature, which was judged to be a “rock” under international law (thereby entitled to no exclusive economic zone) by an international tribunal earlier this year, is the largest natural feature in the South China Sea. Taiwan rejected the results of the tribunal’s ruling and continues to control Itu Aba as a military outpost.