US hardens stance against China’s claims in the South China Sea

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US hardened stance against China’s land claims in the South China Sea and pledged to keep up pressure on human rights abuses in Xinjiang after Beijing sanctioned Chinese hawks in Congress and the Trump administration.

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, said the Trump administration was aligned with a landmark 2016 court ruling that berated China for its claims to waters inside the so-called “line to nine dashes ”which covers about 85% of southern China. Sea.

“We are strengthening American policy in a vital and controversial part of this region, the South China Sea,” said Pompeo. “We are making it clear that Beijing’s claims about offshore resources in much of the South China Sea are completely illegal, as is its intimidation campaign to control them.”

The United States welcomed the 2016 ruling, but did not legally endorse the outcome, in part to make it more difficult for China to accuse it of interference.

Bonnie Glaser, Chinese expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new position “would allow the United States to more vigorously repel Chinese harassment from other claimants seeking to fish and harness energy in what the China illegally claims that its waters ”.

The move comes as the Sino-US relationship continues to show new lows. President Donald Trump said last week that relations were “badly damaged,” while Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister, said relations were in their worst condition since nations established diplomatic ties there. four decades ago. Most American experts believe that the situation will deteriorate further before the presidential election in November.

While Pompeo released his remarks on the heels of the fourth anniversary of the 2016 decision, the decision came as tensions rose in the South China Sea. The Pentagon deployed two aircraft carriers to the region for the first time since 2014, when sensitivity intensified.

Also on Monday, the Trump administration overturned China’s decision to punish Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, two hawkish Republican senators, and Sam Brownback, the head of the State Department for Religious Freedom, with Chris Smith, a member of the Executive Committee of the Congress. . All the men castigated China for its mass detention of more than one million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.

“These threats will not deter us from taking concrete steps to hold Chinese Communist Party officials accountable for their current campaign of human rights abuses. . . in Xinjiang, “said the State Department.

“There is no moral equivalence between these sanctions by the People’s Republic of China and the measures taken by countries which hold officials of the Chinese Communist Party responsible for their human rights violations. “

While the United States and China reached a close trade agreement earlier this year, they disagreed on a range of other issues, including human rights, espionage and, more recently, China’s decision to impose a draconian national security law in the former British colony.

Robert O’Brien, American national security adviser, is meeting this week in Paris with some of his European counterparts. He is expected to raise the question of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company that the United States claims is helping China to engage in cyber espionage – an assertion the company denies.

The South China Sea movement is resurrecting a problem that was a subject of frequent controversy under the Obama administration, but which has been less public in recent years as the relationship has hit many other bumps.

“It’s a good reminder that competition with China has many fronts,” said Eric Sayers, Asia expert at the Center for a New America Security. “We have been talking about Chinese-American technology for two years now, when maritime issues fell to the bottom of the line. ”

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: my @di

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