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South China Sea: Major US boost for furious Philippines amid ‘unlawful’ Beijing move

South China Sea: Military exercises ‘must continue’ says expert

Countries including the Philippines and Brunei, have seen their fishing industries decimated as a result of restrictions placed on the highly valuable South China Sea. China lays claim to around 80 percent of the seas, and puts pressure on neighbouring countries on the areas they are allowed to fish in, while simultaneously threatening others that enter their territory. This had led to dwindling numbers of fish being caught, as well as fierce competition between rival nations, leading to unrest.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, described the restrictions as “illegal”, adding: “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”

Local fishermen from the Philippines reported that the price of fish had trebled, while the number of people employed had dramatically fallen to unseen numbers.

Vietnam, another nation that fishes in the contested waters, also reported similar difficulties, as they attempt to keep thousands of fishermen and women employed.

Pham Anh Tuan, vice-president of the Vietnam Fisheries Society, explained that “in remote waters Vietnamese fishing boats are often obstructed” by China.

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He added: “Vietnamese fishermen fish for their livelihood and to affirm the sovereignty of Vietnam.”

Mr Pompeo demanded action, which gave a welcome boost to the Philippines and its fishing industry.

He vowed the US would stand by those nations as they continued their fishing row with China.

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In a statement, Mr Pompeo said: “In the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce, and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.

“America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.”

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The move was celebrated by those in the fishing industry, as well as the Philippines Secretary of Defence, Delfin Lorenzana, who supported Mr Pompeo’s message.

But more recently, he called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to work together in order to halt Beijing’s South China Sea dominance.

According to ABS-CBN news, he added: “Where is the ASEAN in this superpower rivalry? Despite its avowed ASEAN centrality, it is anything but.

“ASEAN would exert considerable influence on issues and events in the South China Sea if only it could act as one.”

Fears of conflict between the nations persist, with major players in the waters ramping up their military presence.

Experts such as Professor Oriana Skylar Mastro, from Georgetown University, are concerned that the heightened military power in the region will one day lead to accidental conflict.

She told the Council of Foreign Relations this year: “I think there are some factors that show if China cannot achieve its goals, de facto control of the South China waters, it could escalate.

“The US could act more assertively, leading to aggression on the part of China.

“It’s possible that China will come to the conclusion that the diplomatic way of dealing with the situation isn’t working.

“Couple that with new power projection capabilities, military power for the first time… lastly, you could see China taking military action, such as seizing islands of kinetic action against US vessels in the South China Sea waters.”

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