The US and China have seen escalating tensions over trade, the coronavirus pandemic, Huawei and Hong Kong. And both countries have recently carried out navy drills in the South China Sea. Mr Trump’s senior officials have also been hit today with sanctions in retaliation to US measures against China’s Uighur Muslim camps.
Nearly all of China’s claim on the South China Sea has been rejected by the US’ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In a statement he accused the Chinese Communist Party of using their naval dominance to bully other countries.
He said: “We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.
“America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.
“We stand with the international community in defence of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.”
While the US will remain neutral in territorial battles, Mr Pompeo’s statement puts the US in league with Vietnam and Malaysia, who oppose China’s sovereignty over the sea.
In a fact sheet issued with Mr Pompeo’s statement, the State Department said: “There are clear cases where China is claiming sovereignty over areas that no country can lawfully claim.”
READ MORE: South China Sea face-off: Beijing threatens US ships with ‘killer missiles’
Experts have suggested the rejection of Chinese control of the ocean will enrage Beijing.
Kelsey Broderick, an Asia analyst with the Eurasia Group, said: “China is likely not going to like this.
“It raises tension across the board creating more chances of an accident.”
China complained last week about the US carrying out military drills in the region.
China also hit out at the US earlier today with sanctions on Trump administration officials.
The retaliation follows Washington sanctioning senior Chinese figures over human rights breaches against Uighur Muslims last week.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced the measures in a press briefing.
Miss Chunying said the sanctions would begin immediately and those penalised would be barred entry to China.