Republican Senator Tom Cotton launched a fierce attack against China on Sunday, accusing the ruling Communist Party of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to act "aggressively" towards "almost all of its neighbours".
In an interview with Fox News, the Arkansas lawmaker made reference to recent activity in the South China Sea and along the border with India, claiming that China has been taking advantage of the world's focus on the coronavirus to seize territory.
Cotton alleged that China had "invaded India", which is an ally of the United States.
“Mainland China is in the South China Sea. They've taken aggressive action against our partners, countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam. They've repeatedly invaded the airspace in recent weeks of Taiwan. And just this past week, they've taken aggressive action against Japan, the East China Sea", he added.
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) June 28, 2020
Cotton's claim contrasts with a statement from India's President Narendra Modi, who said there had been “no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC" and has sought to de-escalate tensions along the border with China following a violent altercation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours in the disputed territory.
The clash, which was reportedly fought hand-to-hand using a makeshift weaponry, led to the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers as well as an unknown number of Chinese People's Liberation Army troops.
The disputed territory in question is Aksai Chin, which is administered by China as part of its Xinjiang Autonomous Region but claimed by India as part of Jammu & Kashmir - itself a disputed territory.
The two Asian giants went to war over the competing claims in 1962 which ended with both sides maintaining troops along the border, which has often led to a series of small clashes but not a widespread conflict.
— Junaid Bhat Photographer (@Junaidbhatphoto) June 28, 2020
In recent weeks, China has been accused of acting aggressively by Vietnam in April after a Chinese coast guard ship hit and sank a Vietnamese boat, crewed by eight fishermen, near the Paracel Islands.
Beijing maintains a nine-dash line in the South China Sea, overlapping claims by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei to parts of the same territory.
The Philippines supported Vietnam and has warned China that the actions undermine relations between Beijing and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) organisation.
According to the 1935 constitution, the sea territory of the Philippines is located within 119 degrees east longitude and does not include the islands and area currently disputed by Manila.
Taiwan recognises the territory as historically China's despite being a US ally.
A New Cold War
The comments by Cotton - who has previously given support to an unverified theory that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan weapons laboratory - comes as the Trump Administration ramps up its anti-China rhetoric.
National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien said during a speech at the Arizona Commerce Authority last Wednesday, that China represents an ideological threat to the United States and claimed that Chinese President Xi Jinping is the "successor" to former Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
"Let us be clear, the Chinese Communist Party is a Marxist-Leninist organization. The Party General Secretary Xi Jinping sees himself as Josef Stalin’s successor."
He outlined his perspective that the United States was wrong to believe that the introduction of "liberal" reforms in China's economy would be followed by political liberalisation.
"Instead of listening to what CCP leaders were saying and reading what they wrote in their key documents, we closed our ears and our eyes. We believed what we wanted to believe—that the Party members were communist in name only", he claimed.
© AP Photo / Jason LeeChinese President Xi Jinping and other officials sing the national anthem at an event commemorating the 200th birth anniversary of Karl Marx, in Beijing, China May 4, 2018
The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 saw the US pivot against China and launch a trade war against the country, based on claims that Beijing is "cheating" on trade as well as stealing intellectual property - accusations that the government has firmly rejected.
Since the late 1970s China has pursued a policy of 'reform and opening up', in which a market sector and foreign investment was permitted with oversight from the ruling Communist Party.
The Chinese government also withdrew support for revolutionary organisations around Asia and the rest of the world and officially adheres to a policy of non-interference and peaceful coexistence.