China reiterated its legitimate claim to the South China Sea Tuesday, condemning the U.S. for associating the issue with the COVID-19 pandemic, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told reporters.
The remarks came after the United States accused China of exploiting the global coronavirus pandemic to further expand its "unlawful claims" in the South China Sea.
It mentioned the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat, which, according to the Chinese coastguard, was conducting illegal fishing activities in Xisha waters and was sunk after it rammed into the coastguard ship on Friday.
On Tuesday's press conference, China firmly defended its legitimate claim to the waters by stating its interests are in line with relevant international law and international practices while reiterating its rejection of the 2016 South China Sea arbitration.
"China's position on such arbitration has been clear and consistent. The Chinese government does not accept or participate in the arbitration and will never recognize or accept the related awards and will not accept any claims or action based on those awards," said Zhao.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, Zhao said China is offering assistance to other countries to the best of its ability while preventing the outbreak from happening again domestically.
China's efforts and contribution have been widely recognized by the international community, added the spokesperson, urging the U.S. to stop associating South China Sea issues with the pandemic outbreak in an attempt to deny China's legitimate claim and endanger peace and stability.
Zhao also noted repeated trespassed by U.S. warships in the South China Sea. He warned they are violations to China's national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and expected the U.S. to do things that are beneficial for the bilateral ties and pandemic prevention rather than pursuing an opposite course.