China’s foreign ministry has responded to Australia’s decision to brand Beijing’s operations in the South China Sea illegal, refuting Canberra’s “wanton accusations”.
Last week the federal government sided with the US and wrote to the United Nations rejecting “any claims to internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf based on such straight baselines” by China in its dispute with several Southeast Asian countries.
"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,” the federal government said in it’s letter.
The Communist Party of China’s state media mouthpiece The Global Times responded to Australia’s move in typical robust fashion, suggesting Canberra was “recklessly making provocations”.
“The relationship between China and Australia has now deteriorated to a very bad point, and the chance for a turnaround is slim in the near future,” it said.
Communist Party ‘firmly opposed’ to Australia’s stance
The official line from the Communist Party of China came on Monday, as Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters it “firmly opposed” Australia’s stance.
“China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea were developed throughout the long course of history,” he said.
“They are upheld by successive Chinese governments and in conformity with international law including the UNCLOS, which won't be altered by certain countries' wanton accusations.
“China firmly opposes the Australian side's comments which run counter to facts, international law and basic norms governing international relations.”
On Tuesday, China's foreign ministry announced another expected hit to the relationship, saying Hong Kong's government will suspend agreements on mutual assistance for criminal matters, including extradition, with Australia, Britain, and Canada.
Mr Wenbin told a daily briefing that the three countries' decision to suspend extradition agreements with Hong Kong over a new security law for the city constituted a gross interference in China's internal affairs.
The spokesman also said China reserves the right for further reaction on New Zealand's decision to also suspend its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.
Latest clash in long line of disputes
It’s the latest in a long line of contentious issues Australia has clashed with China over in recent months, with relations rapidly deteriorating after Prime Minister Scott Morrison led calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Morrison government has also been vocal over its concerns with the introduction of new national security laws in Hong Kong, angering Beijing and prompting a threat from the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian who warned “Australia should bear all the consequences” of its actions.
While Mr Morrison has stressed Australia will not be bullied by China, several key members of the communist party have issued a series of warnings, threatening Beijing will boycott sections of its economy.
Tariffs have already been slapped on agricultural exports in recent months and the education and tourism ministries have told Chinese nationals to reconsider travelling to Australia due to a rise in racist attacks.
On Monday, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds arrived in the US for talks with their Trump administration counterparts, which are predicted to be centred around China.
They will be joined by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday (local time) for the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, and while the Australian delegate has avoided publicly talking directly about China, Mr Pompeo has used most public appearances to berate what he calls "the Chinese Communist Party".
In a speech on Thursday in California Mr Pompeo raised the prospect of "a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies" to counter what he describes as China's bullying, military island building in the South China Sea, theft of intellectual property and attempted destruction of rules-based order.
The US is expected to urge Australian warships to take part in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, just a week after Australian navy vessels were confronted by Chinese forces near the highly-contested body of water.
‘Curious’ US visit questioned
Senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University, Scott Burchill told ABC News the meeting in the US will only deteriorate relations further and questioned the need to do so.
“I've been concerned about the deterioration and the relationship between China and Australia in recent times, and I think that the AUSMIN talks which you refer to are not going to help matters,” he said.
“It's clear that Australia has hitched its wagon to the US in terms of ramping up pressure on China. And I'm just not sure whether there's any advantage to Australia in doing this.
“What do we expect to get out of this other than damaging what is our most important trading relationship which seems to be a curious strategy to do when you're in the middle of a pandemic and when economic matters are pretty dire.”
Addressing reporters on Tuesday, Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles also questioned the sections of the Morrison government in deteriorating Australia’s relationship with China.
“This is our largest trading partner,” he reminded.
He accused “fringe dwellers” in the Morrison government of worsening relations and called on Ms Payne to take control and speak with a “single, clear voice”.
“We have a situation where there is not a single relationship of substance between a member of this government and a senior figure in the Chinese government,” he said.
“We have seen Government MPs making significant claims in relation to China which are simply not helpful and not appropriate, and instead, what we've got is a Foreign Minister who is totally silent.”
While he acknowledged the South China Sea was of national interest to Australia and the government should voice its concerns, Mr Marles said a lack of “balance” in terms of relationships magnified the current rift between the nations.
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