Japan Latest Nation to Contest Beijing’s South China Sea Claims

Japan has joined a growing list of countries that are challenging China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.On Tuesday, Japan presented a one-page diplomatic note to the United Nations rejecting China’s baseline claims and denouncing its efforts to limit the freedom of navigation and overflight.Japan’s note is the latest in series of recent criticisms of China’s position, joining submissions to the U.N. from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States.Beijing Accuses US of Sowing Discord in South China Sea Chinese Embassy in Washington says statement issued by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deliberately distorts facts and disregards efforts of China and others to achieve peaceThis backlash suggests that China’s excessive claims and its assertive behavior are setting off alarm bells in in a growing number of capitals—both in Southeast Asia and beyond.“By joining the United States and several European and Asian nations in formally protesting China’s claims, Japan is joining a diplomatic (and maybe operational) effort to reject specific elements of China’s South China Sea claims,” said Isaac Kardon, an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval War College.In its submission, Japan explicitly rejects China’s claim that the “drawing of territorial sea baselines by China on relevant islands and reefs in the South China Sea conforms to UNCLOS and general international law.”The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is an international treaty that covers maritime jurisdictions, the use of sea resources, and the freedom of navigation and overflight. Baselines are imaginary lines on a map connecting the outermost points of the features of an archipelago and are meant to circumscribe the territory that belongs to it.South China Sea Tensions Rise as Militaries Conduct Regional DrillsBeijing reacts strongly to Trump administration’s rejection of China’s broad territorial claims in South China Sea, calling Washington ‘a troublemaker and a disruptor of regional stability’In July 2016, an UNCLOS tribunal ruled that China “is constituted principally by territory on the mainland of Asia and cannot meet the definition of an archipelagic State,” which means that any future straight baseline claims around the Spratly Islands will not find any support under international law. The arbitral award also invalidated China’s historic rights claims within its so-called “nine-dash line.”The UNCLOS tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague issued this arbitral award in response to a legal challenge brought against China in 2013 by the Philippines. China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected the PCA’s ruling, and has continued to defend its baseline claims.In the years since the UNCLOS tribunal ruling, the legal battle over China’s South China Sea claims has continued. According to Kardon, Japan’s recent note to the U.N. is part of “a series of such diplomatic notes that began with Malaysia’s December 2019 submission of extended continental shelf claims to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.”China responded by asking the Commission to “not consider” Malaysia’s submission. “This provided another target for claimants and other interested parties to voice formal objections to specific aspects of China’s claims,” Kardon said.US: China’s Claims in South China Sea ‘Completely Unlawful’  ‘The PRC has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region,’ US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday Japan’s note to the United Nations is a response to China’s retort to the joint notes that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom submitted in September 2020.Japan’s note also expresses concern about China’s position on freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea – specifically over what are called “low-tide elevations,” features exposed at low tide but submerged at high tide that do not generate a territorial sea.Japan specifically accuses China of protesting “the overflight of Japanese aircraft in the airspace surrounding Mischief Reef” – a low-tide elevation in the Spratly Islands that China transformed into a major outpost through land reclamation.Zachary Haver contributed to this report.

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