US, Vietnam and Philippines accuse Beijing of ‘unlawful maritime claims’ with five-day drill in South China Sea

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

The United States, Vietnam and the Philippines have lashed out at China, accusing it of coercion as Beijing launches a military drill in a disputed part of the South China Sea.

In a statement, the US Department of Defence said it was concerned about the military exercises carried out around the Paracel Islands from July 1 to 5.

China scheduled five days of drills from Wednesday near the Paracels. Vietnam has overlapping claims with China over the Paracels. China calls them the Xisha Islands, and Vietnam refers to them as the Hoang Sa Islands.

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“The military exercises are the latest in a long string of PRC [People's Republic of China] actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea,” the US defence department statement said.

“The PRC’s actions stand in contrast to its pledge to not militarise the South China Sea and the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.”

The US will continue monitor the situation and call on China to “reduce its militarisation and coercion of its neighbours in the South China Sea”.

On Thursday, the US Pacific Fleet said littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords was conducting routine operations in the South China Sea.

Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, rebuffed the Pentagon statement at a press conference on Friday, saying the Paracel Islands were undisputed Chinese territory and that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drill in the waters were within its sovereignty.

“Some country outside the region often comes all the way to hold massive military activities to flex its muscles, and that is the rooted reason that affects the stability in the South China Sea,” said Zhao, apparently referring to the US.

Vietnam and the Philippines have also criticised China’s military drill.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said China’s exercises in the waters near the Paracel Islands were “highly provocative”. Vietnam’s foreign ministry called them a violation of sovereignty that could harm Beijing’s relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

The Vietnamese ministry sent a diplomatic note to China to oppose exercises that “seriously violate Vietnam’s sovereignty”, spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said.

The drills “further complicate the situation, and are detrimental to the relationship between China and Asean”, she said.

The US criticisms came as Beijing and Washington were trading barbs over a wide range of issues relating to Taiwan, Xinjiang, and national security legislation in Hong Kong. Beijing has accused US operations in the waters of infringing China’s sovereignty and militarising the region.

Vietnam and the Philippines have been vocal against Beijing’s claims and military presence in the South China Sea. Vietnam is contemplating legal action against Beijing. In an Asean summit last month Vietnam called for talks on the code of conduct for the disputed waters to be resumed. They were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Vietnam said in April that one of its fishing boats was sunk by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel. In the same month, Vietnam protested against China sending two diplomatic notes to the United Nations that laid claim over the South China Sea.

But China said Vietnam’s maritime claims were illegal.

And the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, a think tank affiliated with Peking University, said in a report on Friday that 692 Vietnamese fishing vessels had “intruded” into China’s sovereign waters in the South China Sea, up from 569 in May.


Category: Regional

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