The U.S. Department of State recently released a statement condemning acts of interference by Chinese ships against Philippine vessels in disregard of international law. According to the statement, Chinese ships were observed firing water cannons and employing unsafe blocking manoeuvres while the Philippines were engaged in a lawful exercise of high seas freedom of navigation.

The U.S. expressed strong opposition to these acts of aggression that threatened the safety of the Philippine vessels and crew. Drawing attention to the intent of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS) of 1982, the U.S. noted that all states have the right to exercise freedom of navigation of the high seas, as long as such activities are not contrary to the interests of other states or international law.

The U.S. called upon all nations to adhere to international law, including respecting the rights of other states to exercise their freedom of navigation on the high seas. It further urged China to respect the rights of other countries in the region and stop uts unjust harassment of the Philippine coast guard vessels enforcing maritime security and their crew.

The Department additionally urged China to exercise self-restraint and abide by its international obligations and commitments, in accordance with the UN Charter, including UNCLOS, and advocate for peace and security in the South China Sea region. China must immediately end its unlawful interference with Philippine vessels and instead pursue a policy of diplomacy, rather than military coercion, to resolve disputes in the South China Sea region.

The statement also noted that the United States would continue to stand by its treaty commitment to the Philippines as a mutual defence partner, and strongly oppose China’s unjustified maritime claims and unilateral acts in the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has similarly expressed that the U.S. stands for a free and open Indo-Pacific where China’s militarisation of disputed features is unacceptable. In reference to the incident, Pompeo voiced that U.S. would not be intimidated by China’s aggression. He went on to declare that the U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.

In a fierce response to the stated condemnation, Chinese Foreign Ministry warned the United States to stay out of its affairs in the South China Sea and refrain from intervening. Despite increasing tensions and threats of war among the two countries, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently proclaimed that war is not an option for resolving differences.

Moving forward, the U.S. and other countries alike must maintain a united front against China’s aggressive actions. By respecting and upholding the fundamental right of other states to exercise their freedom of navigation, all countries can work together to create a peaceful and secure international environment. At the same time, the U.S. must rekindle its ties with its treaty commitment to the Philippines, as well as continue to stand up to Chinese aggression. In doing so, the U.S. can ensure that international law is respected and upheld, as well as promoting peace and stability in the region.