Several US lawmakers criticized China on Friday for its “deeply troubling” actions in disputed areas of the South China Sea and urged passage of US legislation that seeks peaceful solutions to rising maritime tensions.
Communist neighbors China and Vietnam have seen tensions soar since Beijing announced last week it would move a drilling rig into contested waters.
Several collisions in the area have been recorded between Chinese and Vietnamese ships, with each side blaming the other.
“China’s recent movement of an oil-drilling rig escorted by military and other ships into disputed waters in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam — and the subsequent aggressive tactics used by Chinese ships, including the ramming of Vietnamese ships — is deeply troubling... These actions threaten the free flow of global commerce in a vital region,” the US senators said in a statement.
The bipartisan group of six lawmakers, led by US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, are sponsors of a non-binding resolution introduced last month that condemns the use of force and advocates a peaceful diplomatic resolution of territorial and maritime claims.
China and Vietnam, which fought a brief border war in 1979, have been locked in a long-standing territorial dispute over the waters and related oil exploration, fishing rights and sovereignty in the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) and Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島), which are also claimed by Taiwan.
However, Beijing is also locking horns with other Asian nations that have competing claims in the South China Sea, including the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as with Japan in a separate territorial dispute.
Earlier on Friday, Beijing defended itself against previous “irresponsible” US criticism about the escalating dispute with Vietnam.
US Assistant Secretary of Statefor East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel told reporters on Wednesday that the US opposed “any act of intimidation” in disputed areas and hoped sovereignty issues could be settled diplomatically.