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Protecting and Preserving a Free and Open South China Sea
January 15, 2021

The United States and all law-abiding nations share a deep interest in the preservation of a free and open South China Sea.  All nations, regardless of military and economic power, should be free to enjoy the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them under international law, as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, without fear of coercion.

Today, the United States is taking additional actions to defend these rights and freedoms.  Pursuant to Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Department of State is imposing visa restrictions on People’s Republic of China (PRC) individuals, including executives of state-owned enterprises and officials of the Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, responsible for, or complicit in, either the large-scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, or the PRC’s use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources in the South China Sea.  Immediate family members may be subject to these visa restrictions as well.

In addition, the Department of Commerce has added China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) Limited to the Entity List in light of its role in the PRC’s campaign of coercion against other claimants of an estimated $2.5 trillion in South China Sea oil and gas resources. The Chinese Communist Party has used CNOOC and other state enterprises as weapons to attempt to enforce Beijing’s unlawful “Nine Dashed Line.” CNOOC used its mammoth survey rig HD-981 off the Paracel islands in 2014 in an attempt to intimidate Vietnam. CNOOC’s then-chief executive touted that oil rig as “mobile national territory.”

Beijing continues to send fishing fleets and energy survey vessels, along with military escorts, to operate in waters claimed by Southeast Asian nations and to harass claimant state oil and gas development in areas where it has failed to put forth a coherent, lawful maritime claim.

In a unanimous decision on July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention – to which the PRC is a state party – rejected the PRC’s South China Sea maritime claims as having no basis in international law.  Last July, the United States aligned our position on the PRC’s maritime claims in the South China Sea with key aspects of the Tribunal’s decision and affirmed once again that we reject the PRC’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea.  We welcome the unprecedented number of countries that have formally protested these claims at the United Nations.

The United States stands with Southeast Asian claimant states seeking to defend their sovereign rights and interests, consistent with international law.  We will continue to act until we see Beijing cease its coercive behavior in the South China Sea.