China accused the United States of interfering in relations between China and the countries of Southeast Asia on Tuesday, saying that the United States “deliberately stirs up territorial and maritime disputes”.
The comment by a spokesman for the Chinese government came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that China’s pursuit of offshore resources was “completely illegal”.
Pompeo also accused China of carrying out an “intimidation campaign to control” the disputed fishing territories and offshore energy development.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” said Pompeo on Monday. “America supports our allies and partners in Southeast Asia to protect their sovereign rights over offshore resources, in accordance with their rights and obligations under international law.
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The United States has previously criticized Chinese actions in the South China Sea, such as the construction of military bases on artificial islands – but the United States has never condemned them on the grounds of violations of international law.
“The United States is not a country directly involved in the disputes,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC said in a statement on Tuesday. “However, he continued to interfere in the matter. ”
“Under the pretext of preserving stability, it flexes muscles, fuels tensions and encourages confrontation in the region,” added the embassy.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian echoed these feelings at a press conference on Tuesday, calling the United States a “troublemaker” and accusing the government of “speeding up” arbitration ”to serve their own political agenda in the United States during an election year.
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“The United States, as a country outside the region, wants nothing but chaos in the South China Sea so that it can take advantage of the muddy waters,” Zhao said on Tuesday.
Pompeo’s statement shows a change in previous US policy, having chosen to encourage China and the small countries of the south to resolve maritime disputes with UN-supported arbitration.
The governments surrounding the South China Sea have yet to comment publicly on the dispute.
But Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque has told The Associated Press that he expects the United States and China to try to “woo” their nation as rivalry intensifies.
Roque also noted that “what is important now is to give priority to the implementation and development of a code of conduct to avoid tensions in this area”.
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US-China relations have become increasingly strained in recent months, starting with what the Trump administration said was a lack of transparency from Beijing during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic – which resulted in more than 13 million confirmed cases worldwide and nearly 575,000 deaths.
The United States has reported nearly 3.4 million cases and more than 136,000 deaths to date, according to data from John Hopkins University.
Diplomatic relations have further strained due to new Chinese security laws in Hong Kong, their refusal to sign a nuclear arms trade agreement with the United States and Russia, as well as in the race for 5G – in what the United States has said would be a huge security threat if China is the first to succeed in its development and its partnership with other countries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.