Beijing accuses US of ‘stirring division’ over South China Sea claims

15-Jul-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Beijing has urged the US to stop stirring up division between China and its Southeast Asian neighbours after Washington described Chinese claims to the resource-rich waters of the disputed South China Sea as “unlawful”.

A Chinese embassy spokesperson in the US said the statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo which aligned with a 2016 tribunal ruling by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) rejecting most of China’s claims was intended to “sow discord between China and other littoral countries” in the region.

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erica Bechard (AP)

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Erica Bechard (AP)

“We advise the US side to earnestly honour its commitment of not taking sides on the issue of territorial sovereignty, respect regional countries’ efforts for a peaceful and stable South China Sea and stop its attempts to disrupt and sabotage regional peace and stability,” the spokesperson said on Tuesday.

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In a policy shift for Washington, which has no claims in the region, the US has formally said it opposes a swathe of Chinese claims to the waters within the so-called “nine-dash line” encompassing roughly 85 per cent of the South China Sea, in line with the 2016 ruling.

The Obama administration welcomed but did not officially endorse the ruling, which favoured the Philippines and ruled that China’s nine-dash line claims and accompanying claims to historic rights had no validity under international law.

While Pompeo did not specifically say Washington was taking sides in the sovereignty dispute, he clearly rejected China’s claims to submerged features including Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal, James Shoal, Vanguard Bank and Natuna Besar and described Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea as “completely unlawful”.

Pompeo’s remarks add to a growing number of intensifying confrontations between China and the US over trade, Covid-19, human rights in Xinjiang and the national security law in Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, the US sent two aircraft carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz, and four other warships to the South China Sea for “exercises”, while China was holding its own exercises around the Paracel Islands in the sensitive waters.

The Chinese embassy spokesperson’s statement accused the US of interfering in the disputes between China and other claimants. “Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region,” the statement said.

“Under the pretext of endorsing rules, it is using UNCLOS to attack China while refusing to ratify the convention itself. Under the pretext of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight, it is recklessly infringing on other countries’ territorial sea and airspace and throwing its weight around in every sea of the world.”

The increased activity in the South China Sea by Beijing and Washington has raised the chance of conflict in the region.

While Beijing has said it is working closely with the 10 members of Asean over a code of conduct that aims to regulate behaviour in the waters, there have been growing uncertainties, particularly as negotiations have been postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, China’s neighbours are hardening their stance. A statement issued by Vietnam on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last month said a 1982 UN oceans treaty should be the basis of sovereign rights and entitlements in the South China Sea, in one of the bloc’s strongest remarks opposing China’s vast claim on historical grounds.



Category: China

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