The US is officially rejecting Beijing's disputed claims to most of the South China Sea and its 'predatory' moves to impose them
The US is aligning its South China Sea policy with a 2016 international arbitration tribunal ruling and officially rejecting many of China's claims to the contested waterway, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.
"Beijing's claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them," Pompeo said.
"Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with 'might makes right,'" he said
He added that "the PRC's predatory world view has no place in the 21st century."
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have overlapping claims to the strategic South China Sea, but Beijing's claims are by far the largest, encompassing most of the waterway. Among the various claimant states, China has most aggressively asserted its disputed sovereignty.
China has sought to solidify its expansive claims to the region through the construction of artificial islands and military outposts, as well as increased military activity in the area, despite a 2016 ruling by an international arbitration tribunal rejecting many of China's claims.
Beijing has refused to recognize the decision, which sided with the Philippines, rejecting both the ruling and the authority of the tribunal to weigh in on the dispute.
Even before the release of Pompeo's statement, the US has repeatedly said China's claims to the South China Sea as "unlawful," most recently in a Department of Defense statement condemning Chinese military exercises near the Paracel Islands, territories China seized from Vietnam.
As China conducted its military exercises, two US Navy carrier strike groups sailed into the South China Sea to conduct dual-carrier operations as an unmistakable show of force. The US also routinely conducts freedom-of-navigation and bomber overflights in the region to challenge China's excessive maritime claims.
"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire," Pompeo said. "We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose 'might makes right' in the South China Sea or the wider region."
In response to the US State Department statement, the Chinese Embassy in the US issued a statement on Twitter advising the US "to earnestly honor its commitment of not taking sides on the issue of territorial sovereignty, respect regional countries' efforts for a peaceful and stable #SouthChinaSea and stop its attempts to disrupt and sabotage regional peace and stability."
Update: This post has been updated with the Chinese Embassy in the US response to the statement from the US State Department.
Australia rejects Beijing's South China Sea claims
Australia has rejected Beijing's territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea in a formal declaration to the United Nations, aligning itself more closely with the United States in the escalating row.
In a statement filed on Thursday, Australia said there was "no legal basis" to several disputed Chinese claims in the sea, including those related to the construction of artificial islands on small shoals and reefs.
"Australia rejects China's claim to 'historic rights' or 'maritime rights and interests' as established in the 'long course of historical practice' in the South China Sea," the declaration read.
"There is no legal basis for China to draw straight baselines connecting the outermost points of maritime features or 'island groups' in the South China Sea, including around the 'Four Sha' or 'continental' or 'outlying' archipelagos."
The declaration comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Beijing's pursuit of territory and resources in the South China Sea as illegal, explicitly backing the territorial claims of Southeast Asian countries against China's.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea based on a so-called nine-dash line, a vague delineation from maps dating back to the 1940s.
The latest escalation comes in advance of annual talks between Australia and the US, with ministers travelling to Washington, DC for the first time since Australian borders were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The meetings come at a "critical time" and it is essential they are held face-to-face, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said in a statement on Saturday.
US relations with China have markedly deteriorated in recent months, especially over trade disputes, the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing's crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
On Friday, Beijing ordered the US consulate in Chengdu to shut in retaliation for the closure of its Houston mission over accusations of being a hub for intellectual property theft.
Payne and Reynolds also wrote an article in The Australian newspaper on Saturday, labelling national security legislation imposed on Hong Kong last month as "sweeping and vague".
"We face a public health crisis, economic upheaval and resurgent authoritarian regimes using coercion in a bid to gain power and influence at the expense of our freedoms and sovereignty," they wrote.
France, Britain to sail warships in contested South China Sea to challenge Beijing
rance and Britain will sail warships through the South China Sea to challenge Beijing’s expanding military presence in the disputed waters, their defence ministers said on Sunday. The two countries, both permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, made the remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, echoing the latest US plan to ramp up its freedom of navigation operations to counter Beijing’s militarisation in the region and its stance that territorial disputes should be a matter between China and its Asian neighbours. United States set to stage more military drills in South China Sea to confront ‘new reality’, sources say A French maritime task group, together with British helicopters and ships, will visit Singapore next week and then sail “into certain areas” of the South China Sea, French armed forces minister Florence Parly told the annual defence forum.
Without naming China, she suggested the warships will cross into “territorial waters” claimed by Beijing and envisioned a potential encounter with its military. “At some point a stern voice intrudes into the transponder and tells us to sail away from supposedly ‘territorial waters’,” she said. “But our commander then calmly replies that he will sail forth, because these, under international law, are indeed international waters.”
Parly said although France was not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, by conducting such exercises “on a regular basis with allies and friends” it was contributing to a rule-based order.