China’s maritime claims have no basis, the United States says
China’s maritime claims have no basis, the United States says

China’s maritime claims have no basis, the United States says

We do not seek confrontation with China, but do not back down when our interests are threatened: the Pentagon

We do not seek confrontation with China, but do not back down when our interests are threatened: the Pentagon

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that Beijing’s expansionary demands in the South China Sea have “no basis in international law” in view of China’s growing self-assertion in the highly disputed waters.

Mr. Austin’s broadside came at the start of his first trip to Southeast Asia as US Secretary of Defense as he seeks to rally allies in the region as a bulwark to China.

President Joe Biden’s administration wants to reset relations with Asian countries and build alliances to face Beijing, following the turbulence and unpredictability of the Donald Trump era.

Speaking in Singapore, Mr. criticized Austin China’s actions in the disputed sea, where Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with several Southeast Asian states.

“Beijing’s claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea has no basis in international law,” he said in a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“This claim infringes on the sovereignty of the states in the region,” he said, adding that the United States would support countries in defending their rights.

China claims almost the entire resource-rich sea, through which trillions of dollars in shipping pass annually, with competing demands from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Beijing has been accused of installing a number of military hardware, including anti-ship missiles and ground-to-air missiles there, and ignored a 2016 international court ruling declaring its historic claims over most of the waters to be unfounded.

Rising tensions

Tensions have escalated in recent months between Beijing and rival plaintiffs.

Manila became angry after hundreds of Chinese boats were seen inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, while Malaysia distorted fighter jets to intercept Chinese military planes that appeared off the country’s coast.

Mr. Austin said on Tuesday that the United States “will not back down when our interests are threatened” – but he insisted that Washington “does not seek confrontation” with China.

“I am committed to pursuing a constructive, stable relationship with China, including stronger crisis communication with the People’s Liberation Army.”

Relations between the United States and China have worsened over a range of issues from cybersecurity and technological supremacy to human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Sir. Biden has largely retained Mr Trump’s hawkish stance on China, describing Asian power as the prominent challenge to the United States, but has lowered the temperature and instead focused on working with allies and working at home to compete better.

After Singapore, Mr Austin will visit Vietnam and the Philippines and will try to emphasize that the United States is a “stabilizing force” in Southeast Asia, a senior defense official said.

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