An Australian senator—who made headlines this week by endorsing the massacre of peaceful protesters by the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square—told an Australian media outlet on Wednesday that he believes China has “valid” claims in the South China Sea, where Beijing has been slowly usurping large swaths of Vietnamese and Filipino waters.
Dio Wang, who has represented Western Australia in the nation’s parliament since 2014, told the West Australian that China’s advances in the South China Sea, where they have begun constructing artificial islands and airstrips in disputed waters, were the product of “valid” claims to the area. He allowed that it was possible that they no longer possessed sovereignty over the disputed Spratly Islands and South Johnson Reef: “I think China does have some valid claims given the history, but we don’t live in history.”
Ultimately, Wang concluded that “whoever has the most power at the time will be the most successful in making claims,” despite international law or the legitimacy of claims by any party.
The remarks follow comments in which Wang claimed the massacre of unarmed students in Tiananmen Square was “the right thing” to do on behalf of the Chinese government, because “otherwise the country would have descended into hell.” It is believed that thousands died in the anti-communist uprising in Tiananmen.
Wang’s take on the South China Sea dispute puts him out of step with the Australian government. Australia joined war games with the Philippines and the United States in April in the region, which were marked by comments from American Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the United States takes “a strong stance against the militarisation” in the South China Sea issue. Australia had previously endorsed a “code of conduct” for the international waters, to allow for the maximum number of people from all nations to use them. These events defied warnings from the Chinese government for Australia to stay out of the South China Sea issue.
The South China Sea dispute has grown increasingly dramatic in the past months as China has begun building military and civilian facilities in the Spratly Islands. More inconvenient for the Philippines and Vietnam, which both claim parts of the Spratly Islands, Chinese military vessels have been expelling non-Chinese fishermen from the area by the threat of force, significantly damaging local economies. China has also threatened American vessels in the area, warning them to leave.
The American State Department has warned China to “stop building sandcastles” in the area and stop intimidating civilian vessels, who have historically always had the opportunity to enjoy use of the area.