Foreign ministers of the US and Australia have protested China’s recent moves in the South China Sea that indicate Beijing's intention to take advantage of the pandemic to distract the world from maritime flashpoints.
|US State Secretary Mike Pompeo. Photo: Reuters|
US State Secretary Mike Pompeo said at a virtual Special ASEAN-US Foreign Minister Summit on April 23 that “Beijing has moved to take advantage of the distraction” from China’s new unilateral announcement of administrative districts over disputed islands and maritime areas in the South China Sea, its sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel on April 2 and its research stations on Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef.
“It is important to highlight how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is exploiting the world’s focus on the Covid-19 crisis by continuing its provocative behavior.” “The US strongly opposes China’s bullying and we hope other nations will hold them to account too,” Pompeo stressed.
“Even as we fight the outbreak, we must remember that the long-term threats to our shared security have not disappeared. In fact, they’ve become more prominent,” according to the US Department of State.
In fact, while handing out Covid-19 aid to Southeast Asian states — and many other countries — Beijing reportedly has upped its pressure on other claimant states in the South China Sea. It has sailed the survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 off the Malaysian coast, to closely shadow a Malaysian ship exploring for state oil giant Petronas, in waters near areas claimed by both Malaysia and Vietnam, US non-profit think tank Council on Foreign Relations reported.
|Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Photo: Getty Images|
Meanwhile, Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has condemned China’s recent actions in the South China Sea, including the reported sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
In her first comments on China’s latest moves in the sea, Senator Payne said Australia was concerned about “a number of recent incidents and actions” in the South China Sea.
She said this included “reported efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource development activities, the declaration of new 'administrative districts' over disputed features, and the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat, reportedly in a collision with a Chinese coast guard vessel’.
While not directly laying the blame on Beijing and insisting Australia did not take sides in the disputes, Senator Payne said Australia had a “strong interest in the stability of this crucial waterway and the norms and laws that govern it.”
“Australia urges all states to adhere to international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and to uphold freedom of navigation and overflight,” she said.
"It is vital at this time that all parties refrain from destabilizing activities and work to ease tensions so the international community can devote full attention to responding cooperatively to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Australian Strategic Policy Institute defense program director Michael Shoebridge said Senator Payne's comments showed Beijing that it was “not the only state that can handle the pandemic and assert its strategic interests”.
“The fact that Beijing sees the middle of a global pandemic as an opportunity to exert further unilateral control of areas disputed by others disturbingly exposes the Chinese state's aggressive, expansionist character,” Shoebridge said.
An Australian warship has been conducting exercises in the disputed waterway with three US ships in recent days, as anxiety increases about China's expansion in the region while the world is dealing with the coronavirus, Sydney Morning Herald reported.
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