U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed even as the whole world is occupied by the spread of coronavirus, China never wavered in their relentless “bullying” in the disputed South China Sea.

Pompeo said China continued to deploy maritime militia around the Spratly Islands and recently dispatched “a flotilla that included an energy survey vessel for the sole purpose of intimidating other claimants from engaging in offshore hydrocarbon development.”

“The U.S. strongly opposes China’s bullying and we hope other nations will hold them to account too,” Pompeo said.

Manila reported that there was an encounter between the Philippine Navy and a gray ship belonging China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, while the former is sailing toward the Philippine-occupied Commodore Reef in the South China Sea.

The incident happened last 17 February, while China is in the middle of combating the coronavirus.

The coronavirus originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

An analyst interviewed by Asian Nikkei Review said the actions pointed out by Pompeo have been part of Beijing’s standard operating procedures in the South China Sea.

“The only difference is that Beijing is exploiting the very fact that its Southeast Asian rivals in the South China Sea are having their hands full trying to contain the pandemic and its economic consequences, with the hope they would either not respond or do so sub-optimally against China’s moves to further consolidate its gains in the South China Sea,” said Collin Koh, a maritime security expert at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore.

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