Australia backs US in declaring Chinese claims over South China Sea ‘illegal’

In a formal declaration to the United Nations, Australia has backed the United States in declaring Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea as illegal, aligning itself more closely with Washington in the escalating row.
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.
“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.
“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.
The declaration comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Beijing’s pursuit of territory and resources in the South China Sea as illegal.
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 United States, with ministers travelling to Washington for the first time since Australian borders were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The meetings come at a “critical time” and it is essential they are held face-to-face, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said in a statement.
US relations with China have deteriorated in recent months, especially over trade disputes, the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong.
Payne and Reynolds also penned an article in The Australian newspaper, labelling national security legislation 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.