South China Sea: Chinese, Australian diplomats clash on Twitter

Kinling Lo
·3-min read

Diplomats from Australia and China have clashed on Twitter after Canberra sided with the US in dismissing Beijing’s wide-reaching territorial claims in the South China Sea.

In a filing to the United Nations last week, Australia described the claims as “without legal basis”.

On Friday, Sun Weidong, China’s ambassador to India, hit back at a comment made by his Australian counterpart, high commissioner Barry O’Farrell, in a statement to India a day earlier.

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“Noted remarks by Australian HC to India on #SouthChinaSea disregarding facts. #China’s territorial sovereignty & maritime rights&interests are in conformity w/ int’l law incl UNCLOS. It’s clear who safeguard peace&stability & who destablize&provoke escalation in the region,” the tweet said.

China’s ambassador to India Sun Weidong hit back at a comment made by his Australian counterpart, high commissioner Barry O’Farrell. Photo: Twitter
China’s ambassador to India Sun Weidong hit back at a comment made by his Australian counterpart, high commissioner Barry O’Farrell. Photo: Twitter

In O’Farrell’s statement, he said he told India’s Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar that Australia was “deeply concerned” about Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea that were “destabilising and could provoke escalation”.

In a response to Sun’s tweet, O’Farrell referenced a ruling made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016, which rejected Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea, saying it had violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the waterway.

“Thank you @China_Amb_India. I would hope then you follow the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award which is final and binding under international law, and also generally refrain from actions that unilaterally alter the status quo,” he said.

In his next tweet, Sun dismissed The Hague ruling, describing it as “illegal”, and saying it “has no binding force” – the diplomatic line Beijing has consistently taken.

“We hope those non-claimant countries could contribute to regional peace&stability rather than contrary,” he said.

Australia does not make any claim to the South China Sea, but many other nations and territories do, namely Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In his meeting with Jaishankar, O’Farrell said Australia backed New Delhi in its efforts to ease tensions in its border dispute with Beijing in the Himalayas.

Canberra strongly opposed any attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo along the Line of Actual Control – the de facto shared border between China and India – he said.

Last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared his support for The Hague’s 2016 ruling, saying most of Beijing’s claims to the resources in the South China Sea were unlawful.

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