US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday questioned China's intentions with its massive land reclamation project in the South China Sea during a visit to Vietnam.
"The United States and Vietnam share the interest in maintaining peace and stability in the region. So do China. But it's massive land reclamation project in the South China Sea and increasing militarization of these outposts fuel regional tension and raise serious questions about China's intentions," Blinken said during a speech to several hundred students at Vietnam's National University in Hanoi.
China claims the entire South China sea, a water area believed to be rich in oil and gas and is one of the world's busiest maritime lines. The territorial claim is disputed by other countries in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines.
"The United States will defend our national interest and support our allies and partners in the region. We are not looking for bases, but we will continue to sail, to fly, to operate anywhere that international laws allow," he said.
Blinken said the United States welcomes China's peaceful rise and that he hoped China will "act in accordance with international norms and rules and laws," because that not only benefits China but also other countries.
He said ignoring those rules and the laws would alienate many countries and over time diminish and not expand China's power.
Blinken's trip comes ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama to Hanoi in late May, when he is expected to discuss a range of issues, including the South China Sea and human rights, with Vietnam's leaders.
Blinken said the Vietnamese government should release all political prisoners it is holding and stop arresting those who are "exercising their internationally recognized rights."