Washington is directly intervening into maritime and territorial disputes in the troubled South China Sea region and becoming the main driver of militarization there to suit its own agenda, a senior Chinese diplomat has said.

Speaking during a video conference with foreign ministers at an ASEAN summit on Wednesday, State Councilor Wang Yi accused the US of fuelling tensions in the region for the sake of its own political gain.

“Peace and stability is China’s greatest strategic interest in the South China Sea. It is also the common strategic aspiration of China and ASEAN countries,” the diplomat said. 

China hopes that countries outside the region, including the United States, will fully respect the wishes and expectations of countries in the region, instead of creating tension and seeking profit from it.

The resource-rich South China Sea is the subject of overlapping territorial and maritime claims by several nations, including China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Apart from natural resources, the region is also an important waterway, through which trillions of dollars-worth of trade passes every year.

The US has been increasingly active in the South China Sea in recent years, regularly  sending so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ military patrols as well as aerial surveillance missions into the region. The operations have resulted in various maritime incidents between the US and Chinese militaries. 

Washington, however, is placing all the blame for tensions in the region exclusively on Beijing, while at the same time rejecting its territorial claims. Speaking to the weapons-manufacturer-funded and NATO-backed Atlantic Council think tank late in August, Donald Trump’s national security advisor Robert O’Brien called China “a very assertive, a very aggressive” nation.

“The US always reserves its right to have freedom of navigation and freedom of aviation,” O’Brien said back then. “I certainly reject any Chinese claims that flights over the South China Sea … constitute some sort of breach of a norm or a rule.”

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