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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A resolution “deploring the use of force” by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea passed the U.S. Senate unanimously Monday. The resolution, co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), was introduced June 13 following an incident where Chinese vessels ran into and disabled the cables of a Vietnamese survey ship.

The incident triggered street protests against China in Vietnamese cities, and was followed by a Vietnamese military live-fire exercise.

The resolution also cited several other skirmishes between Chinese vessels and others from the Philippines, Japan and the United States in recent years.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands, a collection of small islands and reefs. The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have partial claims on the islands or its fisheries.

The U.S. and most other nations do not recognize China’s sovereignty over the sea itself, citing commonly accepted interpretations of international law.

The Senate resolution supported “the continuation of operations by the United States Armed Forces in support of freedom of navigation rights in international waters and air space in the South China Sea.”

The U.S. military is currently training with the Philippines as part of the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training program, a series of bilateral exercises the U.S. holds with various nations in south Asia.

The exercises are not directly related to recent tensions in the South China Sea, military officials say; however, most regional analysts acknowledge that the U.S naval presence reassures nations wary of growing Chinese power.

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