China defends sweeping maritime claims after US criticism | Military

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday defended its “historic rights” to nearly all of the South China Sea, following a new report from the U.S. government saying Beijing’s claims are almost entirely invalid.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called the State Department’s “Limits in the Seas” report, released this month, an attempt to “distort international law, confuse the public, to sow discord and disrupt the regional situation”.

“China has historical rights in the South China Sea. China’s sovereignty and rights and interests in the South China Sea have been established over a long period of history and are consistent with international law,” Wang said.

The vast maritime region has been strained because six other governments lay claim to all or parts of the strategically vital waterway, through which around $5 trillion in global trade passes each year and which holds rich but rapidly declining fish stocks and d important submarine deposits of oil and gas.

The United States has no official position on who owns what features of the sea, but maintains the absolute right to operate in what it considers international waters.

This includes sailing Navy warships past Chinese-held elements, including artificial islands equipped with airstrips and other military installations.

The US report said Beijing’s claim “has no legal basis and is asserted by (China) without specifying the nature or geographic extent of the claimed ‘historic rights’.”

The US study also said China’s sovereignty claim covering more than 100 submerged features at high tide was inconsistent with international law; that its enclosure of large areas of the sea was not supported by international law; and that its practice of claiming maritime zones based on the labeling of each island group as a whole was “not authorized by international law”.

China’s “extensive maritime claims in the South China Sea are inconsistent with international law as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” according to the study.

“The overall effect of these maritime claims is that (China) illegally claims sovereignty or some form of exclusive jurisdiction over most of the South China Sea,” he said.

In his response, Wang said the United States “arbitrarily misinterprets the convention, engages in political manipulation with multiple standards for its own selfish interests, and undermines the international rule of law.”

He also renewed China’s criticism of a 2016 international arbitration ruling that largely invalidated Beijing’s claims. The decision is “illegal and null and void. China neither accepts nor acknowledges it,” Wang said.

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