Chinese sailors marching during the opening ceremony of the ASEAN-China Maritime Exercise at a military port in Zhanjiang. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

In a speech Tuesday morning over Zoom, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that U.S. policy champions a free and open Indo-Pacific, and China has no right to turn free waters into a “zone of exclusion” for its own “maritime empire."

The big picture: Esper's remarks come one week after the U.S. State Department announced it rejects most of China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

  • The position aligns with the international tribunal ruling in 2016 that dismissed most of China's claims there as having no basis in international law.
  • "We call on China’s leaders to abide by international laws and norms that China and the Chinese people have benefited from," Esper said in the speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

U.S. orders China's Houston consulate to close

China's Houston consulate. Photo: Mark Felix / AFP

The Trump administration told China to close its diplomatic consulate in Houston "in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus confirmed to Axios on Wednesday morning.

The latest: Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that President Trump directed the State Department to withdraw its consent for China to operate its consulate in Houston due to a litany of abuses in the bilateral relationship.

15 mins ago - Health

Axios-Ipsos poll: Fear of voting

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±3.0% margin of error for the total sample; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to worry about in-person voting — with nearly two in three seeing it as a large or moderate risk to their health — according to this week's installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: This could pose a significant disadvantage for Joe Biden and other Democratic candidates in November if the pattern holds — especially in states where high infection rates persist, or where there are significant hurdles to mail-in, absentee or early voting.

Trump: Coronavirus is "under control"

President Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that he thinks the coronavirus is as well-controlled in the U.S. as it can be, despite dramatic surges in new infections over the course of the summer and more than 150,000 American deaths.

  • “They are dying, that's true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague,” he told Axios' Jonathan Swan.