Australian High Commissioner Barry O'Farrell on Friday hit back at Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong for objecting to his comments about China's 'destabilising' manoeuvres in the South China Sea, and asserted that Beijing should refrain from actions that could unilaterally alter the status quo in the region.
On Thursday, O'Farrell said Australia remains deeply concerned by Chinese actions in the South China Sea that are 'destabilising and could provoke escalation'.
The resource-rich South China Sea is also an important shipping route.
In a tweet, Sun took objection to the Australian diplomat's remarks and said they were made 'disregarding facts'.
O'Farrell, in his strong response, reminded the Chinese envoy about the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 rejecting China's claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea region.
'Thank you @China_Amb_India. I would hope then you follow the 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award which is final and binding under international law, and also generally refrain from actions that unilaterally alter the status quo,' the Australian high commissioner tweeted.
In its verdict, the international tribunal, constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) said that China had violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines by carrying out certain activities in the South China Sea.
The Philippines had approached the tribunal arguing that China's territorial claims in the region is unlawful.
China claims sovereignty over all of South China Sea, a huge source of hydrocarbons.
However, several countries in the region including Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei have competing claims.
O'Farrell issued a statement on Thursday criticising China over its border row with India in eastern Ladakh and its actions in South China Sea.
"On 23 July, Australia lodged a note with the UN Secretary General refuting China's unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea," he said.
"It rejects China's claim to historic rights and internal waters, its assertion of certain maritime zones, and its contention there is wide international recognition of its South China Sea sovereignty claims," the high commissioner added.
In the last few weeks, China has increased its military assertiveness in South China Sea when the entire world is battling the coronavirus pandemic.
Following Chinese actions, the US sent military ships near the disputed islands, and called Beijing's claim over the region illegal.
"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on July 14.