5 February 2014
A top US diplomat has called on China to clarify or adjust its territorial claims in the South China Sea in accordance with international law.
Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, criticised Beijing’s so-called “nine-dash line” that outlines its claims.
He said there were “growing concerns” over China’s “pattern of behaviour”.
Tensions are already high over China’s imposition of an air defence zone above disputed islands in the East China Sea.
Correspondents say there are fears of a fresh showdown in the South China Sea. Several countries claim competing sovereignty over islands, reefs and shoals.
China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan all have claims in the region.
“There are growing concerns that this pattern of behaviour in the South China Sea reflects incremental effort by China to assert control over the area… despite objections of its neighbours,” Mr Russel told a congressional committee.
“Any Chinese claim to maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law,” he said.
“China could highlight its respect for international law by clarifying or adjusting its claim to bring it into accordance with international law of the sea,” he added.
The US says it does not take stances on territorial disputes in Asia.
However, Mr Russel said he supported the Philippines’ right to take its case to a UN tribunal as part of efforts to find a “peaceful, non-coercive” solution.
China denounced the move last year.