WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday hardened its rejection of China’s disputed claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea, calling it “unlawful,” a move that will further sour the already-fraught ties between the world’s largest two economies.
China has offered no coherent legal basis for its ambitions in the South China Sea and for years has been using intimidation against other South Asian coastal states, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
“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,” Pompeo, a prominent China hawk within the Trump administration, said in a statement.
The United States has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea, even sending U.S. 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. America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law,” Pompeo said.
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.
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.