Washington has blamed Beijing for preventing Southeast Asian nations from gaining access to untapped oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea worth trillions of dollars.
Referring to Beijing’s recent alleged incursions in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said that “the US is deeply concerned that China is continuing its interference with Vietnam's longstanding oil and gas activities” in the area.
He accused China of undermining “regional peace and security,” claiming that Beijing imposes “economic costs on Southeast Asian states by blocking their access to an estimated $2.5 trillion in unexploited hydrocarbon resources”.
Beijing’s actions “demonstrate China's disregard for the rights of countries to undertake economic activities in their EEZs, under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, which China ratified in 1996,” Ortagus added.
Beijing Upbeat on ‘Code of Conduct’ for South China Sea
Earlier, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that plans were progressing between Beijing and the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to arrive on a mutual "code of conduct" for the region by 2021, in line with Beijing’s repeated calls to negotiate the issue at a regional level,
“The road map is already very clear," Wang said, noting that China's "sincerity and sense of responsibility" compelled it to develop the modus vivendi.
Apart from China and Vietnam, the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, which are among the more frequently disputed territories, are also claimed by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. China has exerted de facto control over the Paracels since 1974.
Despite having no claims to the territories, the US is also actively engaged in the dispute, sending naval ships to the South China Sea to conduct so-called “freedom of navigation” missions. These have sparked harsh criticism from Beijing which describes such acts as “provocations.”