WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama asked Congress to ratify contentious UN maritime rules, hoping to strengthen his hand in a dangerous stand-off with Beijing over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Addressing the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, Obama said that Congress should approve UN rules designed to peacefully resolve maritime disputes.
Obama’s presidency has seen escalating diplomatic and military tensions over Beijing’s claim to territory throughout the South China Sea.
The area is a vital shipping channel that is also believed to have significant energy and mineral deposits.
It is also pivotal to China’s effort to transform the focus of its navy from coastal defense to a “blue water navy” capable of projecting power across the region.
Chinese military deployments in the South China Sea have spooked neighbors who also claim islands and atolls, and set off a chain of tit-for-tat countermeasures by Washington.
Obama has ordered US navy vessels to sail across the region to affirm freedom of navigation.
The White House believes that Congress’s failure to ratify the UN agreement has undercut the US case that disputes must be solved peacefully.
“If we are truly concerned about China’s actions in the South China Sea for example, the Senate should help strengthen our case by approving the law of the sea convention,” Obama said.
Obama’s call comes at a particularly sensitive time, ahead of a landmark international panel ruling on a dispute between the Philippines and China over the Spratly Islands.