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South China Sea: US accuses Beijing of ‘bullying’ and ‘provocative’ actions in region
April 20, 2020
China has reportedly ramped up its presence in the South China Sea and sent a ship to survey a Malaysian vessel in the oil-rich waters. According to three regional sources, a Chinese-flagged ship was deployed to the region last week to track an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas. Marine Traffic data has revealed the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone on Saturday.
China claims vast areas of the energy-rich waters and has established military outposts on artificial islands.
The reports of increased Chinese activity in the waters has prompted US officials to warn Beijing against “provocative actions” in its offshore oil and gas developments.
In a statement the US State Department said: “The United States is concerned by reports of China’s repeated provocative actions aimed at the offshore oil and gas development of other claimant states.
“In this instance, [China] should cease its bullying behaviour and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilising activity.”
The vessel was also reported near the coast of Vietnam before travelling into Malaysian territories.
Last year the ship was suspected of carrying out oil exploration surveys in the zone.
On the weekend China’s Global Television Network reported China’s Sansha city had established control over the Paracel islands and the Spratly islands – two disputed archipelagos in the South China Sea.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu has since accused China of violating its sovereignty.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman has dismissed any wrongdoings and insisted the Haiyang Dizhi 8 vessel was conducting normal activities and accused US officials of smearing Beijing.
The South China Sea is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
A 2015 US Department of Defence report found an estimated $5.3 trillion (£4 million) worth of goods are shuttled through the region every year.
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Under international law, a large part of the South China Sea comes under Vietnamese sovereignty.
However, Beijing disagrees and says that the entire waterway up to the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan belongs to China – a claim rejected by an international court of arbitration in 2016.