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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.

15 mins ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

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