US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has slammed Beijing's claims to most of the South China Sea and its resources as completely "unlawful". Pompeo added that the Asian country is trying to control the disputed waters by pursuing a "bullying" campaign.
"The United States champions a free and open Indo-Pacific. Today we are strengthening US policy in a vital, contentious part of that region - the South China Sea. We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful", he said.
Pompeo elaborated further by saying that the US doesn't accept China's claims to waters and an exclusive economic zone beyond the 12-nautical mile (22 kilometres) range spanning from islands claimed by Beijing in the Spratly Islands group. The secretary of state went on to argue that the Asian state couldn’t claim ownership over territories such as the James Shoal, which is located in the direct vicinity of Malaysia, but is almost 1,000 nautical miles (1,852 kilometres) away from China’s coastline.
"There are clear cases where (China) is claiming sovereignty over areas that no country can lawfully claim", the Department of State said in the official message accompanying Pompeo's statement.
The contested areas of the South China Sea are claimed by five states, including China, with Beijing currently controlling most of them. China has been solidifying its position in the region by building military bases on the islands, which it insists are purely defensive.
The US, however, is trying to dispute the Chinese Navy's dominance in the sea by regularly sending its destroyers and carriers there on freedom of navigation missions. Beijing has repeatedly denounced them as "provocations", demanding that American vessels leave the waters and that Washington abandon the practice before tensions escalate further, albeit without success.