The United States Thursday announced it had quadrupled support to Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia to boost their law enforcement capabilities at sea, but stressed that the move was not connected to a bitter regional maritime dispute with Beijing.
"This initiative at this time constitutes more than $100 million dollars of US assistance for maritime law enforcement to these four nations," US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said in a telephone press conference from Washington.
The aid builds on an initial $25 million pledge announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in December 2013.
"We are not completely stupid. We are aware that there are other issues at play in the region, but our support is focused on maritime law enforcement," he added.
Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have overlapping claims with China in the resource-rich South China Sea.
Tensions have flared over the past year as evidence has surfaced showing a push by Beijing to build islands on top of some of the contested reefs and install what some of the other claimants, as well as security analysts, suspect are military facilities.
"The initiative is completely transparent. We are doing nothing behind closed doors," Brownfield said a week after visiting Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
"I do acknowledge, logic and common sense will tell you, that a nation that is better able to enforce its maritime laws will be better able to address other issues as well. But that is not the purpose of this initiative."
China deems most of the South China Sea, a key waterway for global trade, part of its territory, while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan have rival claims to the water.