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Australia: First country outside S China Sea region to approach UN on China’s claims

NEW DELHI: Australia has become the first country outside the South China Sea region to approach the United Nations over China’s territorial claims and development of artificial islands in the area – a gateway for global trade including India.

In its petition to the UN, Australia said it rejected China’s “historical claims” in the South China Sea region because they violate international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This comes after the US lambasted Chinese claims in the region, which is the world’s busiest shipping route.

India has maintained over the years that trade through the South China Sea region should not be impeded under any circumstance and has advocated upholding the convention on the Law of the Sea.

Australia has emerged as one of the sharpest critics of China since the coronavirus outbreak, notwithstanding strong, bilateral trade ties. It called for a global investigation into the origins of coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year.

Australia’s declaration to the UN, submitted on Thursday, reads: “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.”

Referring to the 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Australia said, “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.”

It asserted that it did not accept Beijing’s claim that its sovereignty over the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands was “widely recognised by the international community,” citing objections from Vietnam and the Philippines.

Over the past decade, China has built bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea region, saying its rights go back centuries. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam contest China’s claims. Indonesia, southeast Asia’s biggest nation, has also taken umbrage to Chinese attempts to encroach into its territorial waters.

Beijing claims a vast portion of the area, bound by what is known as the ‘nine-dash line,’ and has backed its claims with island-building and patrols. In 2016, an international tribunal ruled against China, saying there was no evidence it had historically exercised exclusive control over the sea’s waters or resources. China rejected the judgment.

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