Context: The United States rejected China's disputed claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea, a move that Beijing criticised as inciting tensions in the region and which highlighted an increasingly testy relationship.


  • The relationship between the United States and China has grown increasingly tense over the past six months over - 
    • Beijing's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, 
    • Its tightened grip on Hong Kong and 
    • Its crackdown on China's Uighur Muslim community.
  • China claims by far the largest portion of territory - an area defined by the "nine-dash line" which stretches hundreds of miles south and east from its most southerly province of Hainan.
  • But Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it, through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year. Beijing has built bases atop atolls in the region but says its intentions are peaceful.

USA’s accusations

  • China has offered no coherent legal basis for its ambitions in the South China Sea and for years has been using intimidation against other Southeast Asian coastal states.
  • The U.S. has long opposed China's expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea, sending warships regularly through the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation there. 

China’s reply: China said that Washington's accusation is completely unjustified. Under the pretext of preserving stability, the U.S. is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region.
Significance of USA’s accusations: It would be important to see whether other nations adopt the U.S. stance and what Washington might do to reinforce its position and prevent Beijing from creating “facts on the water” to buttress its claims.