WASHINGTON Six U.S. senators urged their colleagues on Friday to support legislation reaffirming U.S. support for freedom of navigation, saying they consider China's recent actions in the South China Sea troubling.
China this week accused Vietnam of intentionally colliding with its ships in the South China Sea after Vietnam asserted that Chinese vessels used water cannon and rammed eight of its vessels during the weekend near an oil rig China deployed in a disputed area.
"These actions threaten the free flow of global commerce in a vital region," Democratic Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Jim Risch of Idaho and John McCain of Arizona said in a joint statement.
China's movement of the rig and "subsequent aggressive tactics" by its ships are "deeply troubling," they said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the United States on Friday of stoking tensions in the disputed region.
China claims almost of the South China Sea, rejecting rival claims to parts or all of the oil- and gas-rich waters from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
The six senators introduced a resolution in April affirming U.S. support for freedom of navigation in the region and urging the parties involved in any territorial disputes to seek peaceful democratic resolutions.
Separately on Friday, U.S. Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, termed China's action "needless provocations."
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)