Singapore. South China Sea does not belong to any one nation and the United States will continue to sail and fly wherever international law allows, US Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday, in a challenge to China which claims the waterway.
The United States has conducted a series of “freedom of navigation” exercises in the contested South China Sea, angering China, which says the patrols threaten its sovereignty.
“The South China Sea doesn’t belong to any one nation, and you can be sure: The United States will continue to sail and fly wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” Pence said.
China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, all have claims in the South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year.
Pence on Thursday told leaders of Southeast Asian nations there was no place for “empire and aggression” in the Indo-Pacific region, a comment that could be interpreted as a reference to China’s rise.
Speaking to a regional summit, Pence directly criticised China’s action in the South China Sea, according to a transcript of his remarks.
“Let me be clear: China’s militarisation and territorial expansion in the South China Sea is illegal and dangerous. It threatens the sovereignty of many nations and endangers the prosperity of the world,” he said.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said no country, including the United States, had ever provided any evidence of problems with freedom of navigation or overflight in the South China Sea.