NEW DELHI: A war of words broke out on Friday between China's ambassador to India Sun Weidong and his Australian counterpart Barry O’Farrell over the former's aggression in the South China Sea.
It followed Sun taking offence to remarks by O’Farrell on Thursday in which the latter had said Australia was deeply concerned by "actions" in the South China Sea and that it rejected China’s "unlawful maritime claims" in the region. The remarks were part of a statement that mentioned O’Farrell met Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar on Thursday and conveyed to him that “Australia opposes any attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo (on the India-China border), which only serve to increase tension and the risk of instability."
Indian and Chinese troops have remained locked in a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since early May following intrusions at multiple locations in Ladakh.
“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," Sun said in response on Friday.
O’Farrell soon hit back with: "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."
Ties between Beijing and Australia have been tense in recent months with Canberra supporting a US-led call for an inquiry into how the novel coronavirus disease which emerged in China late last year became a raging pandemic, devastating the world economy besides sickening millions and killing hundreds of thousands in more than 180 countries and regions of the world.
In April, China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, warned that Chinese consumers might choose to boycott Australian exports because of strained relations.
Undeterred, the Australian government has been critical of China’s new national security law for Hong Kong besides voicing concerns over the further militarization of the South China Sea.
Earlier this month, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announced a 40% boost to his country’s defence budget over the next decade focusing on the Indo-Pacific region.
But earlier this week, Australian foreign ,inister Marise Payne seemed to nuance Canberra’s China policy a bit. After a meeting of US and Australian Foreign and defence ministers, Payne said, "The relationship that we have with China is important. And we have no intention of injuring it...But nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests."
This is not the first time Sun has taken to Twitter to object to positions taken by his diplomatic counterparts in New Delhi. Last week, Sun rejected “third party interference" in the ongoing India-China border standoff. This was in response to Philip Barton, the UK’s high commissioner to India saying that China’s actions world over – in the South China Sea, in Hong Kong and in the border standoff with India -- posed a challenge and that the UK was “clear sighted" about the implications of this.
“Real challenges in #SouthChinaSea come from powers outside the region stirring up territorial & maritime disputes & undermining regional peace & stability. On #HongKong affairs, #China’s HK allows no foreign interference," Sun had said in his response on Twitter.