China criticized the U.S. on Tuesday over a senator's call for multilateral negotiations to resolve festering territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said only those countries with territorial claims in the vast resource-rich waters should get involved in such discussions.
"We hope countries not related to the disputes over the South China Sea will respect the efforts of directly related countries to resolve the issue through direct negotiations," Hong told a regularly scheduled news conference.
China, which claims the entire sea and its island groups, will assert its rights and interests but won't use force to resolve disputes or impede navigation, Hong said.
Hong's comments were in response to a call by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb on Monday for Washington to condemn China's use of force and facilitate talks on the dispute.
That followed accusations by Vietnam that Chinese boats cut a cable attached to a vessel conducting a seismic survey off its coast on May 26 and hindered operations of another vessel on June 9. The claims prompted rare anti-Chinese street protests in Vietnamese cities.
Meanwhile, the president of the Philippines, another claimant which has also accused China of harassment at sea, said the American military presence deters aggression in the area.
"Perhaps the presence of our treaty partner, which is the United States of America, ensures that all of us will have freedom of navigation, will conform to international law," Benigno Aquino III told a news conference Tuesday.
Washington irked China last year by asserting that the U.S. had a national security interest in the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, where several nations and territories have competing claims. China rejects outside interference and maintains that the disputes should be handled bilaterally.
Webb said Vietnam and other countries are watching whether "we are going to back up those words with substantive action."
"That does not mean military confrontation, per se, but we have to make a clear signal," said Webb, a Democrat who chairs the Senate subcommittee overseeing American policy toward East Asia.
Vietnam fired live artillery rounds Monday off its central coast in naval drills staged in response to recent incidents at sea.
Hong sidestepped a question about the exercises. But he appeared to be referring to Vietnam when he said "some country took unilateral actions to impair China's sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, released groundless and irresponsible remarks with the attempt to expand and complicate the dispute over the South China Sea."
China accuses Vietnam of illegally entering its waters and putting fishermen's lives at risk.
Taiwan, another claimant, said Tuesday it would go ahead with a regular patrol and supply mission involving three ships in the South China Sea in late June.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Debby Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.