Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said on Tuesday, China is behaving like a “bully” with its militarisation of islands in the South China Sea,an activity Washington must confront with its allies to find a peaceful solution.
In a speech in Sydney, McCain said China was asserting itself globally, best illustrated by militarising artificial islands in the South China Sea, a claim repeatedly rejected by Beijing.
“I think it is very clear that the Chinese by filling in these islands are militarizing them and that is in violation of international law,” the Arizona senator said.
McCain’s comments are set to escalate tensions between the U.S. and China just days before delegates from both countries are scheduled to attend a regional security conference in Singapore.
China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea, through which about five trillion dollars in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the strategic waterway.
The U.S. estimates Beijing has added more than 1,300 hectares of land on seven features in the South China Sea over the past three years, building runways, ports, aircraft hangars and communications equipment.
To counter the perceived Chinese aggression, the U.S. has conducted so-called freedom-of-navigation exercises, the most recent of which was conducted by a U.S navy warship near Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.
At the same time, U.S. is seeking China’s cooperation to rein in ally North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Allies such as Australia have so far refused to participate in freedom-of-navigation exercises in the fear of alienating Beijing
.While McCain stopped short of calling on Australia to undertake the exercises, the former U.S. presidential nominee said allies must work together to find a peaceful solution.