Australia rejects Beijing’s claims in South China Sea

US had rejected claims on July 13; Good News for India

IDD International Bureau

Dynamics in the Indo-Pacific just changed in the past 24 hours, bringing on more  pressure  on China and its untenable claims in the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

Australia, a significant ally of India, US and Japan, has shed its ‘reticence’ on the South China Sea and ‘rejected’ China’s expansive maritime claims while terming these ‘inconsistent’ with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

This comes just ten-days after the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, on July 13,  had rejected Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea saying “We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful”.

For both, Australia and the US, this a break from the past when they has stopped short of intervening in the disputed hydro-carbon rich sea, through which passes trade worth $3 Trillion passes annually.

Australia stand very clear

On July 23, the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations has filed statement in the UN saying “The Australian Government rejects any claims by China that are inconsistent with the UNCLOS, in particular, maritime claims that do not adhere to its rules on baselines, maritime zones and classification of features”. Read full text here.

“Reject China’s claim to ‘historic rights’ or ‘maritime rights and interests’ as established in the course of ‘historical practice’ in the South China Sea, said the filing. The Tribunal in the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award found these claims to be inconsistent with UNCLOS and, to the extent of that inconsistency, invalid.”

Australia statement at United Nation

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 rejects any claims to internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf based on such straight baselines. This is hint at unilaterally drawn nine-dash line by which China claims some 85 percent of the South  China Sea and in turn the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas under its bed and also  the crude oil.

“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 mission to the UN wrote in a filing on Friday. “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 US has come down heavily

The US has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea, sending warships regularly through the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation there. Now the tone is harsher.

Secretary Pompeo had said on July 15 “we made our policy on the South China Sea crystal clear.  It’s not China’s maritime empire.  If Beijing violates the international law and free nations do nothing, then history shows that the CCP will simply take more territory”. The US had first made its stand clear on ‘Maritime claims’ July 13. Read it here

South China Sea disputes must be resolved through international law, not “might makes right”, The US said.

China has engaged in a long campaign to build bases and other outposts on shoals, reefs and rock outcroppings as a way of stretching its its claims.

Australia’s filing comes ahead of a planned meeting in Washington next week between the US and Australian defence and foreign ministers.

This comes just days after the military exercise

US, Australia and Japan had separately, on July 21, carried out a maritime exercise with Japan and Australia in the South China Sea. US warships, during that exercise, had sailed  past China’s man-made islands to prove that these were international waters.

The July 21 exercise in south China sea. Pic US Navy

Two of the biggest carrier strike  groups of the US Navy, led by the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, had participated in the exercise called Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. (read it here)

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