US, Japan call for stop to land reclamations in South China Sea

US, Japan and Australia urged all claimant countries in the South China Sea to cease land reclamations, constructions and other 'coercive unilateral actions'

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Various countries' claims on the South China Sea. (Flickr/deedavee)

Various countries' claims on the South China Sea. (Flickr/deedavee)

The United States, Japan and Australia on Monday urged all claimant countries in the South China Sea to cease land reclamations, constructions and other "coercive unilateral actions" that are changing the disputed area's landscape.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also called on Beijing to abide by a 2016 international tribunal ruling that invalidated its sweeping claims in the South China Sea.

The ruling is "final and legally binding on both parties," the ministers said.

The award would form the "basis of other various decisions to come based on the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas)," Kono said in a press conference later.

During their meeting, Tillerson, Kono and Bishop stressed the need to protect freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, a key shipping lane believed to be rich in marine and mineral resources.

"The ministers voiced their strong opposition to coercive unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions," they said in a joint statement on the sidelines of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) ministerial meetings in Manila.

They urged South China Sea claimants "to refrain from land reclamation, construction of outposts, militarization of disputed features, and undertaking unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment in areas pending delimitation," the statement said.

In July 2016, the arbitral tribunal in the Hague ruled that Beijing has no legal or historical basis for its nine-dash line, which demarcates its claims to almost the entire South China Sea.

Manila filed the case in January 2013 after China took control of Scarborough Shoal, 124 nautical miles from the Philippines' north-western coast.

The tribunal ruled that the Spratlys - the main territory under dispute in the sea - were not islands, rather reefs, and "cannot generate maritime zones," or extend China's territorial claims, as maintained by Beijing.

Since 2012, China has stepped up island reclamations and construction in the disputed territories in the South China Sea, including building structures that appear to have military capabilities.

Other claimants are ASEAN members Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei, as well as Taiwan. The other ASEAN members are Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.