US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday freedom of navigation must be preserved in the South and East China Seas, calling for the status quo to remain in place in the Taiwan Strait where China has held drills around self-ruled Taiwan.
“We must uphold the freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas and maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” he told Southeast Asian ministers ahead of talks in Jakarta.
China claims almost the entirety of the strategic waterway with a supposed nine-dash line that overlaps with the territorial claims of other Southeast Asian nations like Indonesia and Vietnam.
Several Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members including the Philippines have argued for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea after a series of clashes with Chinese patrol ships.
They have also complained that their own territorial claims were not being respected by Beijing.
Tensions between Beijing and Washington have flared in recent years over both the disputed waters and self-ruled Taiwan where the Chinese government has ratcheted up military and political pressure.
Beijing claims the island as its territory, reacting angrily in the past to voyages by foreign warships or military aircraft through the narrow waterway separating the island and mainland China.
On Thursday, a United States reconnaissance plane flew through the Taiwan Strait, the US Navy said, as China continued joint air and naval exercises around the island.