US rejects China’s ‘maritime empire’ | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 15, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:58 PM, July 14, 2020

US rejects China’s ‘maritime empire’

Pompeo declares Beijing's claims in South China Sea ‘unlawful’

The United States has rejected China's claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea, drawing criticism from China which said the US position raised tension in the region, highlighting an increasingly testy relationship.

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 on Monday.

"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 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.

"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire," Pompeo said.

The US statement supports a ruling four years ago under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that invalidated most of China's claims for maritime rights in the South China Sea.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian condemned the US rejection of China's claim.

"It intentionally stirs up controversy over maritime sovereignty claims, destroys regional peace and stability and is an irresponsible act," he said at a regular briefing.

"The US has repeatedly sent large fleets of sophisticated military planes and ships to the South China Sea ... The US is the troublemaker and destroyer of regional peace and stability."

China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it.

About $3 trillion worth of trade passes through the waterway each year. China has built bases atop atolls in the region but says its intentions are peaceful.

Analysts said it would be important to see if other countries adopted the US stance and what, if anything, Washington might do to reinforce its position and prevent Beijing from creating "facts on the water" to buttress its claims.

The relationship between the United States and China has grown increasingly tense recently over various issues including China's handling of the novel coronavirus and its tightened grip on Hong Kong.

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

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