The comment by a spokesperson for the Chinese government came one day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China’s pursuit of offshore resources is “completely unlawful.”
Pompeo also accused China of carrying out a “campaign of bullying to control” disputed fishing territories and offshore energy development.
"The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” Pompeo said in a statement Monday. “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.”
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The U.S. has previously been critical of Chinese actions in the South China Sea, such as the building of military bases on artificial islands -- but the U.S. has never condemned them by citing international law violations.
“The United States is not a country directly involved in the disputes,” the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. said in a statement Tuesday. “However, it has kept interfering in the issue.”
“Under the pretext of preserving stability, it is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region,” the embassy added.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian echoed these sentiments in a press conference Tuesday, calling the U.S. a “troublemaker” and accusing the government of “hyping up the arbitration” in order to serve their own political agenda in the U.S. during an election year.
“The U.S., as a country outside the region, wishes nothing but chaos in the South China Sea so that it can gain from the muddied waters,” Zhao said Tuesday.
Pompeo’s statement shows a shift in previous U.S. policy, once opting to encourage China and the smaller nations to the south, to work through maritime disputes with U.N.-backed arbitration.
The governments surrounding the South China Sea have not yet publicly commented on the dispute.
But Philippine presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, told The Associated Press that he expects the U.S. and China will attempt to “woo” their nation as the rivalry increases.
Roque also noted that “what is important now is to prioritize the implementation and crafting of a code of conduct to prevent tension in that area.”
U.S.-China relations have grown increasingly tense over the last several months, starting with what the Trump administration said was a lack of transparency from Beijing during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic -- which has resulted in over 13 million confirmed cases worldwide and nearly 575,000 deaths.
The U.S. has reported nearly 3.4 million cases to date and over 136,000 deaths according to John Hopkins University data.
Diplomatic relations have further strained due to China’s new security laws in Hong Kong, their refusal to sign a nuclear arms trade deal with the U.S. and Russia, as well as in the race to 5G -- in what the U.S. has said would be a massive security threat if China is the first to succeed in its development and partnership with other counties.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.