The US also called Beijing’s aggressive takeover of the hotly disputed waters “illegal” in a State Department report made public this week. The report said that China’s “maritime claims in the South China Sea, exemplified by the preposterous ‘Nine-Dash Line,’ are unfounded, unlawful and unreasonable”. The document on US policy for the region added: “These claims, which are without legal, historic or geographic merit, impose real costs on other countries.
“Through repeated provocative actions to assert the Nine-Dash Line, Beijing is inhibiting Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members from accessing over $2.5trillion (£1.95trillion) in recoverable energy reserves, while contributing to instability and the risk of conflict.”
The report was released on Sunday in preparation for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Bangkok this week.
The release of the document comes as White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien accused China of bullying neighbouring Asian nations in the South China Sea at the volatile summit.
He said: “Beijing has used intimidation to try and stop ASEAN nations from exploiting their offshore resources.
The US has mocked Beijing’s claim to the South China Sea
The US also called Beijing’s aggressive takeover of the hotly disputed waters “illegal”
“Big countries should not bully other countries.”
Asian countries convened last weekend at the Bangkok ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit to discuss the political situation surrounding the lucrative waters.
The central theme of the discussions was a proposed code of conduct, which could thwart Chinese strategy as tension builds between Beijing and the US, both of which are flirting with hostility due to lack of communication in the waters.
According to Professor Kerry Brown of Chatham House, the lack of regular messaging between Chinese and US ships could be the cause of inadvertent conflict between two of the world’s most deadly forces.
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The US continues to challenge China on the waters
He told Express.co.uk: “There could be a misunderstanding, there could be an instance where it escalates.
“At the moment dialogue between the US and China military to military is poor, some people say that it’s worse than between the USSR and the US during the Cold War.
“There was a lot more contact then than there is now with China, therefore misunderstandings are horribly, horribly possible.”
Ships from both nations regularly patrol the waters where China’s controversial Nine-Dash line claim has left Asian neighbours, including Washington allies, furious with Beijing aggression.
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The report was released in preparation for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit
Countries that also have vested interests in the region include Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand as well as Australia.
The complex networks of alliances mean one small mistake could lead to a chain reaction of political and even military chaos.
Professor Brown, an expert on Asian geopolitics, continued: “Absolutely [conflict could ensue] that’s the First World War scenario that the Japanese Prime Minister spoke about a few years ago, all you need is one trigger or another to create a chain of tension.
“There is plenty of scope for misunderstanding, I think in the last ten years there has been a few near misses and close encounters between US and Chinese ships, you just need one of those to go amiss.
The two nations are embroiled in an arms race
“There was one instance where I think ships passed within 10 metres of each other. It’s simple to see how scenarios like that can escalate.”
On February 17, 1979, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed Vietnam’s northern border to invade the country, waging a bloody strike along the 370-mile border that the two nations share.
The result was as comprehensive as it was deadly. A far inferior Vietnamese army were picked apart by waves of Chinese invasion.
In 1988, 64 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in a conflict over the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea. And in 2014, there was a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese military, as a Chinese oil rig entered disputed waters where Vietnam had also contested for ownership.