South China Sea row: US rejects China's 'maritime empire'
"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Chinese Embassy in the United States said that Washington's accusation is "completely unjustified."
In a move that comes as the latest in the escalation between Washington and Beijing, the US has rejected China's disputed claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea as "completely unlawful". Beijing criticised the action as inciting tensions in the region.
In a statement on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that 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.
China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. These countries have wrangled over territory in the South China Sea for centuries, but tension has steadily increased in recent years.
BEIJING'S 'CAMPAIGN OF BULLYING TO CONTROL'
Pompeo said he wanted to make clear that Beijing's "campaign of bullying to control" the disputed waters was wrong. China said that the US "deliberately distorts facts and international law".
"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 US 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 Chinese Embassy in the United States said in a statement dated Tuesday that Washington's 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.
Regional analysts said it would be vital to see whether other nations adopt 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 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.
BEIJING'S CLAIM IN SOUTH CHINA SEA
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, 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. It routinely outlines the scope of its claims with reference to the so-called nine-dashed line that encompasses about nine-tenths of the 3.5-million-square-kilometre South China Sea on Chinese maps.
"This is basically the first time we have called it illegitimate," said Chris Johnson, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's "fine to put out a statement, but what you going to do about it?"
CHINA PUSHING TERRITORIAL CLAIMS DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC: JAPAN
Japan's annual defence review accuses China of pushing its territorial claims amid the coronavirus pandemic and suspects Beijing of spreading propaganda and disinformation as it provides medical aid to nations fighting COVID-19.
China "is continuing to attempt to alter the status quo in the East China Sea and the South China Sea," Japan said in the defence white paper approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government on Tuesday.
The white paper described "relentless" intrusions in waters around a group of islets claimed by both nations in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
In the South China Sea, it said Beijing was asserting territorial claims by establishing administrative districts around disputed islands, that forced countries distracted by the coronavirus outbreak to respond. But Beijing insists its intentions in the waterway, through which around $3 trillion of global trade passes each year, are peaceful.
Japan's defence review also claimed China appeared to be responsible for "propaganda" and "disinformation" amid "social uncertainties and confusion" caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Such disinformation included online claims that the coronavirus was brought to China by a US military member, or that Chinese herbal remedies could treat COVID-19, a Defence Ministry official said at a briefing.