Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai)

US rejects South China Sea claims in fresh escalation

FACE-OFF US calls China’s maritime ambitions ‘unlawful’; Washington stirring up trouble, says Beijing

- Yashwant Raj and Sutirtho Patranobis letters@hindustant­imes.com AFP FILE

WASHINGTON/ BEIJING: In a major policy shift that is sure to escalate tensions, the US has rejected all of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea as “completely unlawful”.

“We are strengthen­ing US policy in a vital, contentiou­s part of that region, the South China Sea,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said 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.”

He said the US was “aligning” itself with a 2016 order of the Arbitral Tribunal constitute­d under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention that had rejected China’s maritime claims in SCS.

On Tuesday, the top US diplomat for East Asia said Washington could respond with sanctions against Chinese officials and enterprise­s involved in coercion in the South China Sea. “Nothing is off the table ... there is room for that,” David Stilwell, the assistant secretary for East Asia, told a think tank when asked if sanctions were a possible option. China slammed Pompeo’s remarks and went on to sanction US defence giant Lockheed Martin

over missile sales to Taiwan.

Foreign ministry said the US “neglected the history and facts” of Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. “The US, out of its selfish agenda, is doing all it can to stir up trouble in the South China Sea and drive a wedge between regional countries and China, aiming to disrupt China’s and

ASEAN countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability,” spokespers­on Zhao Lijian said.

“China does not seek to build a maritime empire in the South China Sea. We have been treating our neighbouri­ng countries as equals and we have been keeping maximum restraint in safeguardi­ng sovereignt­y and interests in the South China Sea,” he said.

At the same press meet, Zhao announced that China would slap sanctions on Lockheed Martin for its role in the latest US arms sale to Taiwan. The US company is the primary contractor for a $620 million upgrade package for Taiwan’s Patriot surface-to-air missiles, which the US government approved last week. Asked to comment on the US arms sale, Zhao said America should stop selling weapons to Taiwan to “avoid further harming Sino-us ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”. Reports from Taiwan said the Taiwanese government has welcomed the missile upgrade.

China has claimed between 85% and 90% of the South China Sea hemmed in by the so-called “Nine-dashed Line” - a Chinese cartograph­ic inscriptio­n from 1947 and modified to its present form in 1952 - that extends 2,000km from the Chinese mainland, up to a few hundred kilometres from the Philippine­s, Vietnam and Malaysia.


 ??  ?? A file photo of a Chinese Navy formation during a drill in the South China Sea.
A file photo of a Chinese Navy formation during a drill in the South China Sea.

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