Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the United States would treat Beijing's quest for resources in the controversial South China Sea as illegal, which would increase pressure on another front.
"We make it clear: Beijing's claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea are completely illegal, as is its bullying campaign to control it," Pompeo said in a statement.
The United States has long rejected Beijing's far-reaching claims in the South China Sea and has joined Vietnam, the Philippines and other US partners in the region.
But Pompeo went further by expressly campaigning for Southeast Asian nations after the United States had said for years that it had no position on the merits of individual disputes.
In line with the finding of an international tribunal in 2016, Pompeo said that both the Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal "are fully under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Philippines".
Pompeo also condemned China's claims in the competitive Spratly Islands, where China announced earlier this year that it would allow Beijing to expand its maritime claims.
As a result, the United States is now rejecting Beijing's demands in the waters around Vanguard Bank off Vietnam, in Lucania Shoals off Malaysia, in waters that are in Brunei's exclusive economic zone, and in Natuna Besar off Indonesia, Pompeo said.
"Any action by the PRC to bother other countries' fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters or to carry out such activities unilaterally is illegal," said Pompeo.
The declaration is the latest assertive move by President Donald Trump's government against China, which it increasingly portrayed as an enemy before the November elections.
The United States has recently imposed visa restrictions on officials for treating Uyghur and Tibetan minorities and for Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong officials.
Trump has also sharply criticized China for the corona virus pandemic.
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