US defense chief calls out China for 'unlawful behavior' in South China Sea

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 17 2021 04:05 PM

US defense chief calls out China for 'unlawful behavior' in South China Sea 1
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs US Army General Mark Milley testify before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon's budget request, on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, June 10, 2021. Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

MANILA - The United States' defense secretary has criticized China’s “unlawful behavior” in the South China Sea in a virtual meeting with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) and its dialogue partners. 

In a meeting on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III blasted Beijing for its conduct in the disputed waters, wherein which lies the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) there.

"[Austin] also highlighted unlawful [People's Republic of China] behavior in the South China Sea and called on Myanmar’s military to change course," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement released by the US Defense Department.

China continues to disregard the United Nations-backed ruling on the South China Sea, 90 percent of which they claim.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said the country's arbitral victory belonged to the trash bin and described it as a mere piece of "paper."

The official also highlighted the importance of “multilateral approaches to security challenges, including pandemic assistance.”

“In his remarks, Secretary Austin articulated the Administration’s vision for the Indo-Pacific, underscoring the importance of allies and partners, [and] shared principles," the statement read. 

The defense ministers formally adopted this year’s Joint Declaration commemorating the 15th anniversary of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting, which discussed their "broad commitment" with its dialogue partners to address common challenges and "uphold a rules-based order." 

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“Notably, the ministers identified natural disasters exacerbated by climate change as a significant emerging regional challenge requiring cooperation to address,” according to Kirby. 

In a phone call with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on April 10, Austin had “proposed several measures to deepen defense cooperation between the United States and the Philippines, including by enhancing situational awareness of threats in the South China Sea.”

He had also reiterated in April the US' commitment “to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, rooted in international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

The ASEAN Plus is a rostrum for the bloc's dialogue partners Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Russia, and the US. 

Last week, ASEAN member-states and China reaffirmed their "continued commitment to fully and effectively implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea in its entirety." 

They also agreed to exercise restraint in the South China Sea and avoid actions that could escalate tensions.