Australia rejects China’s claims in South China Sea

Australia rejects China's claims in South China Sea
Satellite image shows Woody Island, the largest in the Paracels (file photo). Source: Getty Images
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Daily US Times: Australia has formally rejected China’s claims in the South China Sea, aligning itself more closely with the US as tensions rise between them.

Australia said in a declaration to the United Nations that the claims, which take in the majority of the sea, had “no legal basis”. China has not made any comment on the move.

It comes after the US called some of China’s actions in the South China Sea “unlawful”.

China has built bases on artificial islands in the sea in recent years, saying its rights go back centuries.

Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Vietnam contest China’s claims. The countries have wrangled over territory for decades but in recent years, tensions have steadily increased, with several maritime confrontations taking place.

Beijing claims a vast area known as the “nine-dash line” and has backed its claims with patrols and island-building. It has built significant military infrastructure, although Beijing insists its intentions are peaceful.

Although largely uninhabited, two island chains in the area – the Spratlys and the Paracels – may have reserves of natural resources around them. The sea is also a key shipping route and has major fishing grounds.

An international tribunal ruled against China in 2016, saying there was no evidence it had historically exercised exclusive control over the sea’s waters or resources. But China rejected the judgment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

What is Australia’s position over South China Sea?

Australia’s declaration to the United Nations submitted on Thursday. It reads: “Australia rejects China’s claim to ‘historic rights’ or ‘maritime rights and interests’ as established in the ‘long course of historical practice’ in the South China Sea.”

The text references the 2016 ruling, adding: “There is no legal basis for China to draw straight baselines connecting the outermost points of maritime features or ‘island groups’ in the South China Sea.”

Australia’s declaration also said it did not accept China’s assertion that its sovereignty over the Spratlys and the Paracels was “widely recognised by the international community”, citing objections from the Philippines and Vietnam.

Analysts say the move marks a dramatic shift in position for Australia, which has previously urged all claimants to resolve their disputes in accordance with international law.

The move comes amid deteriorating relations between China and Australia over a number of issues, including an Australian call for a global investigation into the origins of the current coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

The text was issued ahead of annual talks between the US and Australia due to take place in Washington on Tuesday. The two countries are close and long-standing allies.

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