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South China Sea situation deeply concerning, U.S. East Asia envoy says

HANOI (Reuters) -- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink on Saturday said the situation in the South China Sea is deeply concerning, and said China's recent actions in the disputed waterway were "deeply destabilizing."

Kritenbrink made the comments during a visit to Hanoi, amid rising tension between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, where Vietnam is also a claimant.

"We think that China's actions, particularly its recent actions, around the Second Thomas Shoal, vis-a-vis the Philippines have been irresponsible, aggressive, dangerous, deeply destabilizing," Kritenbrink said at a briefing for selected media in Hanoi, a recording of which was reviewed by Reuters.

"We're going to continue to stand with our Filipino allies," Kritenbrink said, adding that Washington had made it clear, both publicly and privately, to Beijing that the mutual defense treaty obligations it has with the Philippines were "ironclad."

On Friday, Philippine officials said they did not consider invoking the mutual defense treaty with the U.S. after accusing China of aggressively disrupting a resupply mission in the disputed South China Sea earlier this month.

China's Foreign Ministry disputed the Philippines' account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.

"We think every country in the region, including China, needs to respect international law and needs to behave responsibly in the maritime domain," Kritenbrink said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.