Relations between Canberra and Beijing have taken another downward turn in recent days, with Australia saying candidly that there is “no legal basis” for China’s growing territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea.
The declaration was made to the United Nations last week and now openly complements an earlier United States assertion that China’s actions in the region are tantamount to “bullying”.
Australia rejects China’s claim to ‘historic rights’
In the declaration, Australia said that it 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”.
Australia emphasised that it does not accept China’s sovereignty claim over the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands. This is the region where Australian warships encountered the Chinese Navy a few weeks ago while the Australian vessels were exercising with the Japanese and US military.
“The Tribunal in the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award found these claims to be inconsistent with UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and, to the extent of that inconsistency, invalid,” the declaration pointed out.
There is no legal basis for China’s drawing of baselines
Australia’s submission to the UN continued: “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,” it said.
“Australia rejects any claims to internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf based on such straight baselines.”
The document added that Australia also rejected China’s claims to maritime zones generated by submerged features or low-tide elevations. It pointed out artificial transformation, including land-building activities, cannot change the classification of a feature under UNCLOS.
Opposition leader welcomes tougher Australian stance
Meanwhile, opposition leader Anthony Albanese has welcomed the tougher Australian position on China’s activities in the South China Sea.
He believed that Australia needed to defend its national interests.
“We also need to stand up for international law,” Albanese noted. “And the international law of the sea provides for freedom of navigation which is absolutely critical to international trade.”