United States President Donald Trump and his Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang on Sunday called for free and open access to the South China Sea by the international community while highlighting its strategic importance and other lawful uses of the sea including for commerce.
In a joint statement issued by the two sides during President Trump’s visit to Vietnam, the two leaders reiterated the two countries stance on the South China Sea and called on parties to refrain from “escalatory actions, the militarization of disputed features, and unlawful restrictions on freedom of the seas.”
The two sides also underlined the need for the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and an early conclusion to an effective, legally binding Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (COC).
President Trump and President Quang further urged all the South China Sea claimants to clarify and comport their maritime claims in accordance with the international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to implement their international legal obligations in good faith in managing or resolving these disputes.
The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims by China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. An estimated US$5 trillion worth of global shipping trade passes through the South China Sea. While many non-claimant countries including the US want the South China Sea to remain international waters.
China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea. In July last year, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled against China’s maritime claims, but China does not recognise the tribunal.
Since July this year, relations between China and Vietnam have strained after China put pressure on Vietnam to stop oil drilling in a disputed area in the South China Sea.