Speaking during debate in the Senate, Jim Webb, D-Va. -- who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee -- said China's recent creation of Sansha City and other actions are unilateral actions to assert control of the disputed territories in the Sea and may be a violation of international law. He asked the U.S. State Department to clarify the situation with China and report back to Congress, said a report on the Senator's Web site.
"With the resurgence of a certain faction of the Chinese tied to their military, China has become more and more aggressive," the Senator said, recalling the Chinese Cabinet last month approved the establishment of what is referred to as Sansha City prefectural zone.
"This is literally the unilateral creation from nowhere of a governmental body in an area that is claimed also by Vietnam. This city they are creating will administer more than 200 islets, sand banks, and reefs covering 2 million square kilometers of water," Webb said. "They have populated and garrisoned an island that is in contest in terms of sovereignty, and they have announced that this governing body will administer this entire area in the South China Sea."
Tensions are rising over the issue as China takes steps to strengthen its claims, although other neighboring countries -- including Vietnam and the Philippines, both members of the 10-nation Association of South East Nations or ASEAN -- also have overlapping claims.
ASEAN foreign ministers ended their recent meeting in Cambodia without a joint communique on the issue, which some observers say was the result of pressure on some of the members by China, which wants a bilateral approach to the issue and not a multilateral one preferred by the United States.
Webb said China is seeking a bilateral approach because it can "dominate any nation in this region."
China's Global Times Thursday quoted analysts as saying Beijing will not back down on sovereignty issues and on Sansha City, despite criticisms from the United States, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Ruan Zongze at the China Institute of International Studies said it was inappropriate for the United States to criticize China over Sansha, adding China's action is reasonable and a logical move given the nature of Asian politics.
"The U.S. should reflect on its diplomatic interference in the region which has sent inaccurate signals to neighboring countries," Ruan said, adding Washington has broken its promise to take no position on competing sovereignty claims.
Nanjing University Professor Ji Qiufeng told the Global Times it is clear the United States is making such statements to galvanize countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines, but China should ignore them as they are groundless.
"Establishing Sansha City is a domestic affair of China which shouldn't be interfered with by any other countries," Ji said.
Webb's Senate colleagues -- John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Republicans Richard Lugar of Indiana, John McCain or Arizona and James Inhofe of Oklahoma -- have introduced a resolution urging China and ASEAN to complete work on a code of conduct for settling the South China Sea disputes and other maritime domains before tensions rise any further, Foreign Policy magazine reported.
The report said the resolution affirmed U.S. commitment to assist ASEAN countries in remaining strong and independent, pledged to deepen the U.S. partnership with ASEAN nations.