U.S. Sends Note to UN Rebuking China’s Claims in South China Sea

“In asserting such vast maritime claims in the South China Sea, China purports to restrict the rights and freedoms, including the navigational rights and freedoms, enjoyed by all States,” the note read.

U.S. Sends Note to UN Rebuking China’s Claims in South China Sea

The United States has submitted a diplomatic note to the United Nations rebuking China’s sweeping maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea, which drew a rapid response from Beijing accusing Washington on Wednesday of trying to “stir up trouble.”

U.S. Representative to the UN Kelly Craft sent UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres the note Monday and requested it be posted to the UN body responsible for evaluating countries’ claims to the seabed off their coasts. The note cited the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and a 2016 tribunal between the Philippines and China that ruled China’s claims in the South China Sea were invalid under international law.

The U.S. statement was the latest in a long series of diplomatic notes and protests from other countries against China’s vague, sweeping claims. It follows notes by Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It also comes at a time of heightened tensions in the South China Sea and growing solidarity between other claimants concerned about China’s aggressive behavior.

“In asserting such vast maritime claims in the South China Sea, China purports to restrict the rights and freedoms, including the navigational rights and freedoms, enjoyed by all States,” Craft’s note read. The note specifically mentioned the objections raised by the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

“The United States again urges China to conform its maritime claims to international law as reflected in the Convention; to comply with the Tribunal’s July 12, 2016 decision; and to cease its provocative activities in the South China Sea,” it said.

The U.S. has not ratified UNCLOS but recognizes it as general international law.

The deluge of diplomatic notes against China’s claims began when Malaysia submitted its own claim for an extended continental shelf to the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in December. That prompted China to reiterate its stance on holding “historic rights” to nearly the entire South China Sea.

Last month, Indonesia joined in explicitly agreeing with and citing the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling. Both Indonesia and the U.S. echoed the tribunal’s ruling that China’s “historic rights” to the South China Sea have no basis in international law, and that the features China claims there cannot generate maritime zones as they are not valid islands.

On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded to the U.S. note. Despite the 2016 ruling that indicates otherwise, Zhao insisted China’s stance is “consistent with international law including the UN Charter and UNCLOS.” He said the U.S. has “sought to stir up trouble in the South China Sea, resorted to military provocation, and attempted to drive a wedge between regional countries.”

“None of this is conducive to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Zhao told a news conference in Beijing.

The U.S. has kept up a rapid tempo of naval maneuvers in the South China Sea in recent weeks – particularly in response to China’s deployment of a survey ship and a flotilla of its coastguard into Malaysian waters for a month starting in mid-April. China had apparently been trying to pressure Malaysia out of exploring for resources on its own continental shelf.

In another provocative action, a Chinese warship in February locked its radar gun onto the Philippine Navy’s BRP Conrado Yap in Philippine waters, sparking a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

President Rodrigo Duterte has pursued closer ties with China since he took office in 2016 and has diverged from the Philippines’ long-standing treaty ally, the U.S.  But Beijing’s provocative actions in the South China Sea appear to have prompted a rethink in the Philippines’ attitude toward Washington.

On Tuesday, the Philippines announced it was suspending for six months its plans to terminate a key defense agreement with the U.S, citing “political and other developments in the region.” The Visiting Forces Agreement had been set to expire in August.

"Because of security issues... in that part of the world (South China Sea), both our governments have seen it would be prudent for us to simply suspend any implementation of the termination," Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez told ANC news channel Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. explained Duterte’s change of heart on Twitter, saying, “A man who does not change his mind cannot change anything. And he ran on the slogan: Change is coming. But in the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, in a time of pandemic and heightened superpower tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world.”

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Myanmar Forces Arrest Two Village Officials For Alleged Ties to the Arakan Army

Other administrators say they are considering resigning to avoid arbitrary arrest.

Myanmar Forces Arrest Two Village Officials For Alleged Ties to the Arakan Army

Two village administrators in Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state have been charged under the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law for allegedly having ties to the rebel Arakan Army, relatives of the men and officials said Wednesday.

The arrests come as Myanmar’s military is increasingly using the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law to prosecute civilians and local officials for alleged ties to ethnic armed force. The army has been stepping up its offensives a 17-month-long campaign to crush the AA’s armed drive for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhines in the state.

On May 30, military and police forces detained and charged Maung Zaw, administrator of A-ngu Thit village, and Kyaw Myint, administrator of Ywathit Kay village, both in Myebon township, after an army commander summoned them to a meeting, their wives and Pe Than, a lawmaker from the township, told RFA.

They have been charged under sections 50(j) and 51(b) of the Counter-Terrorism Law, Pe Than said.

Section 50(j) pertains to offenses regarding the financing of terrorism and carries a prison sentence of 10 years to life, with the possibility of a fine. Section 51(b) pertains to offenses regarding unmarked plastic explosives and carries a five-to-10-year prison sentence, with or without a fine.

“The tactical commander of the military troops stationed in the region took away the two for a conversation,” Pe Than said. “They searched their houses while the officers were interrogating them.”

The pair was charged the following day and remanded by the court on Monday, he said.

Hla Thein Kyi, wife of Kyaw Myint, said she does not know why her husband was arrested, but surmised it had to do with accusations of ties to the AA, which the Myanmar government has declared an illegal association and a terrorist organization.

“He hasn’t come back home,” she told RFA. “They rummaged through the whole house. They went through all the documents related to his work, but they couldn’t find anything. We don’t know why he was arrested.”

“They don’t have any evidence against him,” she said. “We are so distressed. They have been bullying us like this. It would be acceptable if he had been arrested because they had found some evidence connecting him to the AA.”

It remains unknown who the plaintiff is in the cases against Maung Zaw and Kyaw Myint.

RFA could not reach the commander of Myebon Town Police Station or Zarni Kyaw, administrator of Myebon township, for comment.

Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun said the interrogation of the two men revealed that they have ties to the AA.

“The authorities found through the interrogations that two village administrators have connections to AA, and the government attorney decided to charge them under the Counter-Terrorism Law based on the findings,” he said.

AA spokesman Khine Thukha told RFA that the charges are false.

“The two village administrators in detention have no connections to the AA,” he said, adding that they are ordinary civilians.

“It is unacceptable that the Myanmar military has consistently used the same law to charge innocent village administrators,” he said.

Officials consider quitting

Local residents said Myanmar soldiers have been posted to the police station and have been conducting search operations in the area since May.

In 2019, many administrators resigned from their positions in other northern Rakhine townships, including Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Mrauk-U, and Minbya, following the arrests of administrative officials amid the armed conflict.

Some administrators now say they are terrified that Myanmar security forces will arbitrarily arrest them on the same accusations and are planning to resign.

“In my opinion, it would be best to resign,” said one village administrator who declined to give his name out of fear for his safety. “If they charge us, we can’t do anything. It could happen to us.”

Pe Than said the military should be more understanding of the delicate situation of village administrators who have to deal with all armed forces operating in their areas.

“They might have helped the members of insurgent groups out of concern for their own safety, while they have had to do the same when the military showed up in their villages,” he said.

“The government and military should understand their precarious situation between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “If the authorities keep arresting and charging the administrators, it will drive them into a corner, and they all might resign. Then, the administrative mechanism in the region would collapse.”

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun dismissed concerns that administrative mechanisms in Rakhine state could collapse if many administrators resigned out of concern for their safety.

“Many people will line up to replace the ones who have quit,” he said.

AA raids on police outposts in late 2018 and in early 2019 triggered the conflict in northern Rakhine state — a region already devastated by the Myanmar army’s campaign to expel 740,000 Rohingya Muslims in 2017.

More than 100 civilians have been killed and hundreds more have been injured by mortar shells, landmines, and other explosives since 2019, while over 160,000 others have been displaced by the fighting, according to the Rakhine Ethnics Congress, a local relief group.

The military and Myanmar government have also charged civilians and journalists under the Counter-Terrorism Law amid the hostilities.

In May, five ethnic Rakhine men who were videoed while being beaten by soldiers on a naval vessel were charged under the law for having suspected ties to the AA, though their relatives and friends said the charges were false.

Journalists Thar Loon Zaung Htet of Khit Thit News and Khine Myat Kyaw of Narinjara News were charged in March for violating the Counter-Terrorism Law by interviewing members of the AA, forcing the pair to go into hiding to avoid arrest.

Similarly, police arrested Voice of Myanmar editor-in-chief Nay Myo Lin in Mandalay during the same month for the publication of an interview with the AA spokesman, though prosecutors later dropped the charges.

Reported by RFA Myanmar Service, Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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