The US defence secretary has accused China of “destabilising” the South China Sea, saying its action threatened the region’s long-term progress.
Chuck Hagel said the US would “not look the other way” when nations ignored international rules.
Mr Hagel was speaking at a three-day summit – the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore – that involves the US and South-East Asian countries.
He also urged Thailand’s coup leaders to restore democratic rule soon.
The forum comes amid growing tensions between China, Vietnam and the Philippines, with Japan-China ties also strained over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
The summit gives senior delegates from the region a chance to meet face-to-face to try to resolve tensions.
‘No to intimidation’
“In recent months, China has undertaken destabilising, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea,” Mr Hagel said in his address on Saturday.
“We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims,” he added, referring to the way China has claimed territorial rights over areas of the South China Sea close to Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
“All nations of the region, including China, have a choice: to unite, and recommit to a stable regional order, or, to walk away from that commitment and risk the peace and security that has benefited millions of people.”
He said he supported Japan’s offer to play a greater and “more proactive” role in regional security, as promised by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his keynote speech on Friday.
SOURCE: BBC News