United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Chinese exploration of natural resources in South China Sea is “completely unlawful”. He added that Beijing’s campaign of bullying to control the troubled water is wrong. China blamed US of deliberately distorting “facts and international law”. China has been constructing military bases on artificial islands in parts of the South China Sea. Regional countries including Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, lay claim over the Islands and see Chinese incursion as illegal. The countries have contested the territory for centuries in the build up to the present-day rivalry which has steadily escalated over the recent times.
Beijing considers nine-dash-line as part of its territory and has backed its claim with island-building, regular patrolling and militarization of the zone. Though largely uninhabited, two island chains may host large reserves of oil and natural agas. The sea also serves as a shipping route and has major fishing grounds. Japan in its annual defense review described China’s navel ambitions in the area is a grave concern for it and accused China of changing the status quo in the East and South China Seas.
In a statement on Monday, Mr. Pompeo rejected the Chinese claims on the troubled Waters in the South China seas, saying Beijing had “no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region”.
He said the United States, which didn’t seem interested to take sides in the territorial dispute in the past, denounced the Chinese claims on the weathers of Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“Any action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters- or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is unlawful,” he said in a statement.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China as its maritime empire.”
Chinese embassy in Washington DC in its tweet hit back at the US saying, its state department “deliberately distorts the facts and international law including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas”.
It said America “exaggerates the situation in the region and attempts to sow discord between China and other littoral countries.
“The accusation is completely unjustified. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to it.”
US has previously remained neutral on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The US has talked on the issue four years after an international tribunal in The Hague ruled the Chinese claims in the South China sea are illegal. Both US and China last week conducted naval exercises in the area – a rare sight that showed growing tensions between the rivals. US now through its actions is indicating a policy shift towards China.
Trump administration has recently criticized Chinese government for its alleged mis-handling of the COVID-19, state-sponsored violence against Muslim minorities in Muslim-majority province Xinjiang and curbs on the freedom of speech in Hong Kong. Beijing’s land reclamation projects in South China Sea have alarmed the world and are under tight scrutiny by the international powers. The risks of direct military confrontation between the world’s two most powerful countries is imminent if things continue to worsen.
Mr. Pompeo said the US stood “with our South-East Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, adding that this position was “consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.”