The United States said on Tuesday a court ruling that China has no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea should be treated as final and binding and not be a reason to raise tensions.
“We certainly would urge all parties not to use this as an opportunity to engage in escalatory or provocative action,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in a briefing aboard Air Force One.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague announced its ruling on Tuesday that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within much of the South China Sea, which has been subject to territorial disputes by several countries.
China, which boycotted the hearings at the court, vowed again to ignore the ruling and said its armed forces would defend its sovereignty and maritime interests.
A senior State Department official said the United States was encouraging sides to use the ruling to hold diplomatic talks to resolve the remaining disputes.
“Once the dust settles and the rhetoric subsides, this decision opens the door to some very practical and potentially productive discussions among the various claimants, in part because the ruling significantly narrows the geographic scope of the areas in question,” the official said on a conference call with reporters.
A foreign ministers’ meeting July 21-26 of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Laos will be the first opportunity for claimants to discuss the ruling. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s foreign minister Wang Yi were also expected to attend.
“My expectation is there will be a period of assessment, discussion and consultation that lies directly ahead,” the official said.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in shipping trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Daniel Kritenbrink, U.S. President Barack Obama’s top Asia policy advisor, said that Washington had “no need or interest in stirring tension in the South China Sea” as a pretext for involvement in the region.
Kritenbrink said, however, that “we will not turn a blind eye to this important waterway in return for cooperation elsewhere in the world.”
U.S. Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and fellow Republican Dan Sullivan issued a statement encouraging other claimants, including Vietnam, to seek similar resolution of maritime disputes through arbitration and negotiation.
“China faces a choice: China can choose to be guided by international law, institutions, and norms. Or it can choose to reject them and pursue the path of intimidation and coercion,” they said.
The senators said the United States should be “regularly challenging China’s excessive maritime claims” through air and warship patrols and make clear the U.S. interest in preventing Chinese militarization of strategic features.
The presumptive Republican Party and Democratic Party nominees to run in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election both called on countries to respect the court’s decision.
Peter Navarro, an economics professor and China adviser for Republican candidate Donald Trump said: “It’s important to reiterate that freedom of navigation and overflight is a key principle of the international rules-based order and it should be respected by all parties.”
In a statement, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton spoke of the United States’ interest in the South China Sea and the free flow of commerce.
“It is important that all claimants abide by this ruling and continue to pursue peaceful, multilateral means to resolve disputes among them. U.S. leadership – building on the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia – will be key in supporting our partners and allies in these efforts.”