Daily Management Review

Free Passage through South China Sea Demanded by EU


Free Passage through South China Sea Demanded by EU
In its first diplomatic admonishment of Beijing after Chinese jets intercepted a U.S. military plane over the contested waters last month, the European Commission said on Wednesday that countries must be free to pass through the South China Sea.
The European Commission warned that it opposed "unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tension" while the commission avoided directly criticizing Beijing which is a major trade partner. The commission said these in a new policy document and these statements are being seen as a sign of concern at China's construction and militarization of islands in the South China Sea.
"The EU wants to see freedom of navigation and over flight upheld in the East and South China Seas," the EU executive said in its document. The document has been prepared to frame the bloc's China policy over the next five years.
However the EU governments must still approve the document for it to become formal.
Washington has been urging Brussels to speak out against Beijing's claim to almost all the South China Sea even though the European Union says it is neutral in the South China Sea dispute between China and other Asian nations.
The South China Sea is a vital trade waterway where Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines have rival claims and the United States says Beijing is taking a predatory approach on the issue.
In a case brought by the Philippines, an international court in The Hague is expected to rule soon on China's claims. China has however said that United Nations body does not have powers of enforcement and has added that it does not respect the court's jurisdiction.
In an effort to assert Jakarta's sovereignty after Beijing said it had an "overlapping claim" over nearby waters, a senior Indonesian official said his country's president would travel to the Natuna Islands for the first time on Thursday. This is a sign of further tensions.
China demanded that Washington end surveillance near China after two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea in May. This was but one among a series of recent encounters.
About a week before the interception, Chinese fighter jets were scrambled as a U.S. Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea. These waters have the routes through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year.
"The large volume of international maritime trade passing through that area means that freedom of navigation and over flight are of prime importance to the EU. The EU should encourage China to contribute constructively to regional stability ... and support for the rules-based international order," the Commission said.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called this month for "regular and visible" European patrols in the South China Sea as the EU is increasingly concerned by the tensions despite the Commission's careful language.