China Protests as G7 Leaders Call for 'Demilitarization' of East, South China Seas

The G-7 leaders call on parties in the South China Sea to demilitarize features.


Following two days of meetings in Taormina, Italy, on May 26 and 27, the heads of state and government from the Group of Seven (G-7) countries — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and U.S. President Donald J. Trump — issued a joint communiqué (PDF) that addressed a range of international issues.


This year’s communiqué, like last year’s, drew attention to ongoing maritime tensions in the Asia-Pacific, focusing specifically on the East and South China Seas. The G-7 leaders expressed their “commitment to maintaining a rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law.” The communiqué additionally expressed support for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and for the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes “through diplomatic and legal means, including arbitration.” The communiqué does not mention the July 2016 award by a Hague-based tribunal in the Philippines’ case against China over the South China Sea.


The communiqué continued that the leaders were concerned “about the situation in the East and South China Seas” and “strongly opposed to any unilateral actions that could increase tensions.” The statement came days after the United States carried out its first freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea since Trump’s inauguration, drawing a sharp reaction from China, which included an aerial intercept of a U.S. surveillance aircraft in international airspace near Hainan Island.


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