South China Sea China navy submarine
© Reuters / China Stringer Network
A nuclear-powered submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy in the South China Sea, April 12, 2018.
Recent American criticisms of Chinese conduct in the South China Sea amount to "slander," the country's foreign ministry has said, insisting US interference only complicates the dispute over the highly-trafficked sealane.

The contested waters have long been a source of conflict for Beijing and its neighbors, particularly over rights to drill for the area's rich offshore gas and oil deposits. The United States has repeatedly called on China to abandon its claims to the territory and accuses the country of threatening the freedom of shipping in the area.

Following a flare-up of tension between China and Vietnam over the territory, the US State Department condemned what it called China's "repeated provocative actions" in a statement on Saturday, and called on Beijing to "cease its bullying behavior." The statement followed similar remarks on Friday by US National Security Advisor John Bolton.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry hit back on Monday, arguing the American criticisms were empty, and insisting that China be allowed to resolve its disputes without US interference.

"This is slander against Chinese and Southeast Asian countries' efforts to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea and properly manage differences," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Monday. "Countries and people in the region will not believe their words."

Geng added that the US must "stop such irresponsible behavior and respect the efforts of China" and other countries in the region to work out their differences "through dialogue."

Vietnam last Friday accused China of violating its territorial waters amid a reported standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in the East China Sea, kicking off the latest exchange of rhetoric with Washington.

In addition to the valuable energy reserves lying under the South China Sea, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of shipping cargo transits the area every year, including a large portion of China's own imports, but the area remains hotly contested. Beijing's territorial claims in the region are disputed, at least in part, by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, and the United States regularly takes up the issue on behalf of the disputant nations.