BEIJING: Refuting US allegations of building a "maritime empire" in the disputed South China Sea, China on Tuesday claimed its jurisdiction over the vast ocean existed for more than 1,000 years and accused Washington of attempting to sow discord between Beijing and the Southeast Asian countries.
In a major policy speech on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the world will not allow China to treat the strategically important South China Sea (SCS) as its "maritime empire" and vowed to support worried Southeast Asian countries against Beijing's "campaign of bullying" to control the resource-rich region.
Reacting to Pompeo's statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in Beijing that the secretary of state's remarks neglected the history and facts about the SCS.
His remarks also breaches the US government's open commitment to not taking position on sovereignty related issues of the SCS, Zhao said.
He disputed the US assertions that China has come up with its nine-dashed line in the SCS in 2009 to beef up its claims.
"The US says China announced a dotted line in the SCS in 2009. It is not true. China's rights and sovereignty has a long history. Our effective jurisdiction over the relevant islands' reefs and waters in the SCS has been there for over 1,000 years," Zhao claimed.
"As early as 1948 China had officially published the dotted line which is not questioned by any country in the region," he said, adding that China's rights have legal and historical basis.
About the judgement of an international tribunal in The Hague in 2016 which had rejected China's claims in the SCS and delivered a sweeping rebuke on Beijing's behaviour including its construction of artificial islands, Zhao said the 'arbitral tribunal abused its mandate, breached the principle of consent.'
The tribunal said China has no legal basis to claim "historic rights" to resources in the SCS and it has violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in the disputed waters.
The tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines, which brought the arbitration case "on almost all claims," Pompeo said.
Zhao said, "the award was based on flawed evidence and unwarranted application of law. The US hyped up the arbitration to further its agenda, China will never accept that."
Zhao said that China is committed to resolving the issue with the concerned countries.
The US is driving a wedge between China and the countries in the region, he said.
Pompeo had said that America stands with its Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.
His comments came as two US aircraft carriers - USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan - drilled together in the SCS last week, amid China's drills around Paracel islands of the SCS which Beijing claims as Xisha Islands.
Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory.
China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Beijing has impeded commercial activity like fishing or mineral exploration by countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, claiming that the ownership of territory belonged to China for hundreds of years.