US rejects ‘bullying’ Beijing’s claims to South China Sea resources

China has offered no legal basis and has been intimidating other coastal states in region, US secretary of state says

The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz on a drill in the South China Sea on July 6th, 2020. Photograph: EPA/Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Collier

The US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz on a drill in the South China Sea on July 6th, 2020. Photograph: EPA/Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony Collier

 

The United States on Monday rejected China’s disputed claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea in a move that Beijing criticised as inciting tensions in the region,

China has offered no coherent legal basis for its ambitions in the South China Sea and for years has been using intimidation against other southeast Asian coastal states, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“We are making clear: 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,” said Mr Pompeo, a prominent China hawk within the Trump administration.

The United States has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea, sending warships regularly through the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation there.

Monday’s comments reflect a harsher tone, however. “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Mr Pompeo said.

The Chinese embassy in Washington said the accusation is “completely unjustified”.

“Under the pretext of preserving stability, [the US] is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region,” it said.

China claims 90 per cent of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it, through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year.

Beijing has built bases atop atolls in the region but says its intentions are peaceful.

Beijing routinely outlines the scope of its claims with reference to the so-called nine-dash line that encompasses about nine-tenths of the 3.5-million-square-kilometer South China Sea on Chinese maps.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry’s welcomed the US statement, and called for Taiwan’s inclusion in a multilateral dispute mechanism. “Our country opposes any attempt by a claimant state to use intimidation, coercion, or force to resolve disputes in the South China Sea,” spokeswoman Joanne Ou told reporters.

The relationship between the United States and China has grown increasingly tense over the past six months over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, its tightened grip on Hong Kong and its crackdown on China’s Uighur Muslim community. – Reuters