On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that China's attempt at claiming expansive maritime territories across the South China Sea was not justified by the rule of law and could potentially set up military confrontations between the US and Beijing.

Unlawful territorial claims

The attempts could also result in some companies getting sanctioned by the US as the American government aims to drive Chinese activity in the region down, as reported by The New York Times.

The secretary of state noted China's yearslong control campaign of the maritime resources and territory across the massive stretch of water was illegal. Pompeo's criticism of China's efforts has been the most explicit show of Washington's support of a 2016 ruling at The Hague that states China violated international laws with its territorial "bullying."

The announcements suggest that the US policy expresses its support of the tribunal ruling and puts Washington in an eligible position to enforce that legislation despite China's open rejection.

Another note is that the statement was not tied to the military, hinting that there is a possibility the US could come in support of nations affected by China's territorial disputes including Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines if confrontations occur.

A political scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M. Taylor Fravel, who is currently studying territorial disputes of China as well as its military, said the statement by Pompeo was a public expression of Washington's support of the tribunal's ruling.

Despite the public support for the ruling, the United States government is wary of maintaining its neutrality on territorial disputes including the Spratly Islands, said Fravel.

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The land features across the South China Sea is being battled over by China and five other governments where Indonesia tackled the Asian giant for its activities near its maritime territories.

China denies the allegations of illegal claims, citing "a nine-dashed line," which is a boundary that consists of an area as large as Mexico and contains most of the region. Beijing noted the tribunal had no jurisdiction in the matter and continued its construction of artificial islands around the disputed territory and equipping them with weaponry, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Firm denial of the accusations

The Chinese embassy located in Washington issued a statement that called Pompeo's comments an exaggeration of the issue and is an attempt to create chaos between China and other Asian nations.

Chinese representatives also noted the allegations had no basis and evidence, adding Beijing completely opposed the accusations. The statement also said China was open to resolving territorial disputes through peaceful negotiations.

The disputed region is home to potentially abundant oil and gas resources that are usually used by governments to sign contracts with companies that conduct exploration and gathering of resources.

The waters of the South China Sea are also home abundant fisheries which have resulted in multiple fishing boats and coast guard vessels from various countries to encounter one another over the past few years repeatedly.

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