The Donald Trump administration in the United States on Monday categorically rejected the claims made by China over the South China Sea, AFP reported on Tuesday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington will treat Beijing’s pursuit of resources in the South China Sea as illegal.

“We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.”

Pompeo went further, presenting direct US support for Vietnam and Philippines, countries affected by China’s ambitions in the South China Sea. “America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law,” Pompeo said. The US secretary of state claimed that America stood in “defense of freedom of the seas” and in opposition to the policy of “might is right”.

Pompeo also rejected Beijing’s southernmost claim to James Shoal, located some 1,800 km from the Chinese mainland. He said the area, administered by Malaysia, was completely submerged by water. Pompeo made his remarks on the fourth anniversary of a 2016 judgement by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The judgement favoured the Philippines in its rejection of Chinese claims over the nine-dash line, a delineation based on maps from the 1940s when the Republic of China took over islands from Japanese control.

Beijing, however, rejected Washington’s claim that it had been “bullying” its neighbours, Reuters reported. “The United States is not a country directly involved in the disputes,” the Chinese embassy in the United States said in a statement on Tuesday. “However, it has kept interfering in the issue. Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region.”

In May, China had asked the US to “stop provocative actions”, after an American warship, Preble, sailed near the Scarborough Shoal, which is a disputed territory in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing.

Other countries with claims to the South China Sea

Apart from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam have also staked claim to the region, and it has been used by the Japanese, and Southeast Asian navies. In October 2018, United States military officials claimed that a Chinese warship had tried to steer its Navy vessel off course.