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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

FBI arrests 5 alleged agents of Chinese government

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The FBI charged eight people on Wednesday for acting as Chinese agents and said the defendants — five of whom were arrested — stalked and harassed U.S. citizens in an attempt to get them to return to China.

Why it matters: These are the first charges of their kind, FBI director Christopher Wray said at a Wednesday press briefing. The charges include conspiring to violate law on interstate stalking on behalf of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Oct 27, 2020 - World

Senators introduce bipartisan resolution to label Xinjiang abuses "genocide"

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

A cadre of bipartisan senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday to formally label the Chinese government's human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region of Xinjiang as "genocide."

Why it matters: China has faced global backlash for its repression in Xinjiang, where ethnic minorities are subject to surveillance, torture and detention in mass "re-education" camps. But genocide is a serious crime under international law, and the U.S. invokes the formal label only in rare cases.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

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