South China Sea row explodes as US warns Beijing to stop ‘aggressive actions’

South China Sea: US will 'push back' on behaviour says Blinken

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As President Joe Biden seeks to reassert the US against China, his secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke against Beijing in Indonesia. His visit marked the latest by a US official to the Indo-Pacific, where Americans spoke out against aggression from China in the region.

In his speech, Mr Blinken said Washington would work with allies and partners to “defend the rules-based order” and countries should have the right to “choose their own path”.

He then spoke about China, and said: “That’s why there is so much concern – from north-east Asia to south-east Asia and from the Mekong River to the Pacific Islands – about Beijing’s aggressive actions.

“Claiming open seas as their own. Distorting open markets through subsidies to its state-run companies. Denying the exports or revoking deals for countries whose policies it does not agree with.

“Countries across the region want this behaviour to change – we do too.”

Mr Blinken stressed the US is “determined to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea”, which Beijing claims almost all of.

However, the Secretary of State added: “It’s not about a contest between a US-centric region or a China-centric region – the Indo-Pacific is its own region.”

He then said Washington wants to ensure “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

It comes after Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo announced the US imposed extensive human rights-related sanctions on dozens of people and entities tied to China, Myanmar, North Korea and Bangladesh.

Washington also added Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime Group to an investment blacklist.

Canada and the UK joined the US in imposing sanctions related to human rights abuses in Myanmar, while Washington also imposed the first new sanctions on North Korea under Mr Biden’s administration and targeted Myanmar military entities, among others, in action marking Human Rights Day.

Mr Adeyemo said: “Our actions today, particularly those in partnership with the United Kingdom and Canada, send a message that democracies around the world will act against those who abuse the power of the state to inflict suffering and repression.”

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China’s embassy in Washington denounced the U.S. move as “serious interference in China’s internal affairs” and a “severe violation of basic norms governing international relations.”

Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said it would do “grave harm to China-US relations” and urged Washington to rescind the decision.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin added at a daily briefing on Monday: “If the US acts recklessly, China will take effective measures to strike back resolutely.”

US-China relationship has deteriorated over a range of issues from cybersecurity and tech supremacy to human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Mr Biden has largely continued former President Donald Trump’s stance on China, and has described Beijing as the pre-eminent challenge to the US.

In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Mr Biden his support in encouraging Taiwanese independence would be “playing with fire”.

China’s state-run Global Times said Mr Xi blamed recent tensions on “repeated attempts by the Taiwan authorities to look for US support for their independence agenda as well as the intention of some Americans to use Taiwan to contain China”.

“Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire. Whoever plays with fire will get burnt,” it said.

The White House said Mr Biden “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”.

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