Australia has rejected Beijing’s territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea in a formal declaration to the UN.
In a statement filed on Thursday, Australia said there was “no legal basis” to several disputed Chinese claims in the sea, including those related to the construction of artificial islands on small shoals and reefs.
“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 declaration read.
“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, including around the ‘Four Sha’ or ‘continental’ or ‘outlying’ archipelagos,” it read.
“Four sha,” or four sands (四沙), refers to Beijing’s claim over the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島), the Paracels (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), the Spratlys (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島), and an island group that includes Macclesfield Bank (Zhongsha Islands, 中沙群島), all of which are also claimed by Taiwan.
The declaration came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Beijing’s pursuit of territory and resources in the South China Sea to be illegal, explicitly backing the territorial claims of Southeast Asian countries against China’s.
Beijing claims almost all of the South China Sea based on a so-called “nine-dash line,” a vague delineation from maps dating back to the 1940s.
The latest escalation comes ahead of annual talks between Australia and the US, with Australian ministers to travel to Washington for the first time since Canberra closed the nation’s borders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meetings come at a “critical time” and it is essential that they are held face-to-face, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and Australian Minister of Defence Linda Reynolds said in a statement yesterday.
Payne and Reynolds also penned an article in the Australian newspaper, labeling national security legislation that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last month as “sweeping and vague.”
“We face a public health crisis, economic upheaval and resurgent authoritarian regimes using coercion in a bid to gain power and influence at the expense of our freedoms and sovereignty,” they wrote.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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