A G7 statement favoring compliance with international law and opposing unilateral actions clarified the position of participating world leaders on the South China Sea issue. The statement ignored Beijing’s request that the maritime dispute not be discussed by the Group of Seven leaders during their two-day meet in Shima, Japan, on May 26 and May 27, 2016.
The 42nd G7 summit held at the Shima Kanko Hotel in Kashiko Island, Shima, Mie Prefecture, saw the world leaders united on the matter. According to the South China Morning Post, they released a joint statement widely perceived to be directed at China.
“We are concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas, and emphasise the fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes.”
G7 leaders are aware that the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration is deliberating on the tribunal case filed by the Philippines against China over its South China Sea activity. The United Nations body is expected to issue a statement in the next few weeks regarding its final ruling on the matter.
The G7 position appears to be buttressed by increased tensions from China’s claim over most of the South China Sea, proven erroneous in a multi-country lecture series by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court. As a peace offering, he also issued a statement inviting China to cease its aggressive island-building, and instead, join the Philippines in declaring the South China Sea a sanctuary for fish and part of the global commons.
Aside from the G7 leaders, China’s rush to set up structures on the artificial islands has alarmed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), consisting of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. In August 2015, ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh released a statement calling for a Code of Conduct to hem in China’s activities.
“We are calling for the termination of such activities, which are of concern to us, and eroding trust and confidence among the parties, and complicating the very process of negotiating. In the face of the situation, it is even more urgent for ASEAN and China to early conclude the C.O.C.”
Admiral Harry Harris of the U.S. Pacific Command minced no words in his appraisal of the South China Sea at the Pentagon in February 2016, with concerns to be echoed by the media covering the G7 meet.
He released the following statement to USNI News.
“I’m of the opinion they’re militarizing the South China Sea. They have reclaimed almost 3,000 acres of military bases in the South China Sea.”
Months before the G7 meet, satellite imagery revealed Chinese military buildup on its holdings in the Paracel Islands near Vietnam and artificial islands in the Spratlys close to the Philippines. HQ-9 anti-air warfare missiles were spotted on Woody Island in the Paracels and Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighter jets were also identified, backing Harris’ statement at the Pentagon. Chinese naval vessels guard these islands.
According to Reuters, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used the G7 forum to welcome China’s peaceful rise. He also urged respect for the rule of law, as he reiterated Tokyo’s opposition to acts that try to change the status quo by force.
Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko issued a statement about Abe’s mention of the South China Sea.
“Prime Minister Abe led discussion on the current situation in the South China Sea and East China Sea. Other G7 leaders said it is necessary for G7 to issue a clear signal.”
According to ABC News, the G7 statement drew a sharp rebuke from China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in Beijing that the South China Sea dispute had “nothing to do” with the G7 or any of its members.
“China is resolutely opposed to individual countries hyping up the South China Sea for personal gain.”
The G7 group consisting of the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, Italy, France, and Canada all agreed to make the strong South China Sea statement affecting Japan, the Southeast Asian nations, and an increasingly assertive China.
[Photo by Pool/AP Images]