Pompeo formally rejects Beijing's claims in South China Sea

Pompeo formally rejects Beijing's claims in South China Sea
© getty: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Esper says 'most believe' Beirut explosion was accident, contradicting Trump | Trump later says 'nobody knows yet' what happened in Lebanon | 61-year-old reservist ID'd as fourth military COVID-19 death Meadows defends Trump's description of Beirut explosion as an 'attack' Pompeo urges US companies to block downloads of Chinese apps MORE on Monday announced that U.S. policy is to reject China’s claims in the South China Sea, a move likely to draw intense backlash from Beijing and further strain its relations with Washington.

“Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” the secretary said in a statement.

China claims more than 80 percent of 1.4 million square miles in a key area of maritime trade and untapped resources of oil and gas despite international pushback. The maritime territory has seen decades of low-level disputes between Beijing and its Southeast Asian neighbors over claims to an archipelago and a buildup of manmade islands.

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Pompeo on Monday said the U.S. is formally aligning itself with the 2016 decision by an international tribunal that rejected Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea as having no basis in international law.

The move puts the U.S. on the side of the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei in their territorial claims against China. These countries counter Beijing's claims to maritime territory largely used for fishing and offshore energy development in the South China Sea.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo continued in his statement. “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.”

The Trump administration has confronted China in the South China Sea with naval maneuvers and exercises that Beijing considers a provocation, conducting six such operations since 2017. Both the U.S. and China conducted competing naval operations on July 4.

The U.S. takes issue with China increasingly building up manmade islands with military hardware in the territorial waters, saying Beijing is creating facts on the ground for its territorial claims, while China maintains such efforts are for national defense.

Pompeo's public opposition to Beijing’s moves on the South China Sea come at one of the lowest points of relations between the U.S. and China, over the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic and concerns ranging from human rights to cybersecurity.