Canberra declared China’s expansive maritime claims to the disputed waters illegal and was joined by Malaysia which also said it refused to accept Beijing’s stance. China hit back with a tough-worded statement accusing Australia of violating “basic principles of international relations”.And in a show of defiance, it carried out night-time drills with warplanes over the South China Sea.
China’s Ministry of Defence said the air arm of its navy simulated night take-offs, air raids, and attacks on targets at sea with H-6G and H-6J bomber aircraft.
The drills came after a day diplomatic manoeuvring at the UN where Beijing reaffirmed its South China Sea claims in a note addressed to the world body’s secretary-general.
It was posted to the website of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf alongside numerous other recent notes from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United States, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
China’s note states: “Australia’s wrongful acts of ignoring the basic facts on the South China Sea issues and denying China’s land territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea have violated international law and basic principles of international relations, including the Charter of the United Nations.”
China also insisted it holds “historic rights” to sovereignty over the waters and land features in the South China Sea as well as a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zones around the rocks and reefs that comprise of the Spratly and Paracel archipelagoes.
Australia rejected these claims in its own note to the UN on July 23 which argued China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea were illegal.
READ MORE: South China Sea: Australian warships join US and Japanese in drills
It urged China to abide by the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration award that struck down the legal basis for China’s claims in the region.
The US, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia have all recently cited the 2016 award or parts of it when rebuking China’s position on the South China Sea.
Beijing has always refused to recognise the outcome of that landmark case.
Relations between Beijing and Canberra have nosedived in recent months with rows over the coronavirus pandemic, trade and Australia’s apparent move towards closer ties with the US.
China has warned closer military co-operation between the two increases the risk of armed conflict in southeast Asia and could result in “unbearable consequences” for nations in the region.
The sabre-rattling ultra-nationalist Global Times newspaper — part of the state-owned People’s Daily newspaper – warned Australia will “face unbearable consequences by undermining its ties with China” and prompt greater vigilance and mistrust from Beijing.
The Chinese warnings were issued after the US and Australia took part in joint naval drills in the Philippine Sea and unveiled plans for new military fuel reserve in Northern Territory capital Darwin.
Jian Zhang, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the University of New South Wales, said the fuel reserve facility in Australia would be useful for the US in the event of any conflict with China.
He said: “Australia, as an alternative place for stockpiles of equipment and fuel reserves, is quite logical because the US bases in southeast Asia and the US bases in northeast Asia are most likely to be affected.”
Darwin, an isolated city of 130,000 people, is closer to some Asian capitals than to the Australian capital Canberra.
It has hosted a contingent of 1,250 US Marines since 2011, under former President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia following China’s increased assertiveness in the region.