The Senate unanimously Monday approved a resolution introduced by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee, saying the issue should be resolved peacefully through a multilateral effort.
China's maritime security vessels recently were accused of running into and disabling the cables of a Vietnamese exploration ship in an area within 200 miles of Vietnam's continental shelf and recognized under international law to be within Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone. There have been similar incidents in the past.
The sea dispute has become tense as China repeatedly asserts its "indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) and the surrounding waters" of the South China Sea and has asked all other claimant countries to stop drilling for oil and gas.
Besides Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have claims in the seas. Earlier this month, China announced plans to boost its maritime forces to assert its claims over the sea and its islands.
"A growing number of nations around the South China Sea are now voicing serious concerns about China's pattern of intimidation. These nations include Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as countries such as Singapore that do not have a stake in the territorial disputes," said Webb, stressing the need for a multilateral approach to resolve the disputes "in a peaceful manner, respecting the sovereignty of all claimants."
Webb said the United States has a clear "strategic interest" in such a multilateral approach, which would ensure open access to international waters and air space, and promote adherence to international law.