US will back nations whose South China Sea claims China violated

Secretary of State Pompeo says ‘we will provide (all) the assistance we can, use all the tools we can’. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The United States will support countries that believe China has violated their maritime claims in the South China Sea, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday but stressed doing so in multilateral and legal forums.

“We will then go use the tools that we have available and we will support countries all across the world who recognise that China has violated their legal territorial claims as well — or maritime claims as well,” Pompeo told reporters.

“We will provide them (all) the assistance we can, whether that’s in multilateral bodies, whether that’s in Asean, whether that’s through legal responses, we will use all the tools we can,” he said.

The US on Monday rejected China’s claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea, drawing criticism from China which said the US position raised tension in the region, highlighting an increasingly testy relationship.

Monday’s statement reflected the first time the US had taken the position that China’s claims to the South China sea were “completely unlawful”.

The United States has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea, sending warships regularly through the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation there. Monday’s comments reflect a harsher tone.

China claims 90% of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it.

On Wednesday, Vietnam’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Le Thi Thu Hang, said in response to the hardened US rhetoric on the region that Vietnam welcomed any views on the South China Sea that were in accordance with international law.

“Peace, stability, cooperation and development in the South China Sea are the common aspirations and goals of countries in the region and the international community.”