The Trump administration on Monday rejected nearly all of China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea, in a significant escalation between the world’s two major powers.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described China’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea as “completely unlawful".
Mr Pompeo said that shared interests of the US and regional allies around the South China Sea “have come under unprecedented threat from the People’s Republic of China".
Washington is now rejecting three core claims by Beijing in the region.
Mr Pompeo said that China could not lawfully claim waters around Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands, which an international tribunal in 2016 found to be part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
The tribunal in the Hague considered most of China's sovereignty claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis. China rejected and ignored that ruling.
The US also now rejects any Chinese claim to waters surrounding Vanguard Bank off the coast of Vietnam, Luconia Shoals off Malaysia, waters in Brunei’s exclusive economic zone, and Natuna Besar off Indonesia, Mr Pompeo said.
America has also not recognised Beijing's claims to James Shoal, an entirely submerged feature only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia but 1,000 nautical miles from China’s coast.
Mr Pompeo said the US would reject any push to impose “might makes right” in the South China Sea or the wider region.
The move breaks precedent with past US policy, where Washington traditionally advocated for a UN role and peaceful resolution for the maritime disputes between China and its neighbours.
But now, the US is aligning itself with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam.
The US position is restricted to the maritime disputes and not territorial ones.
‘While the US has no claims in the South China Sea, it has steadily increased its military presence in the area, saying it aims 'to insure freedom of navigation'.
China has rejected and complained about the US presence.