US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday that Washington supports the stance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in that China cannot be allowed to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.

"The United States welcomes ASEAN Leaders’ insistence that South China Sea [SCS] disputes be resolved in line with international law, including UNCLOS [United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea]. China cannot be allowed to treat the SCS as its maritime empire. We will have more to say on this topic soon", Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

After the 36th ASEAN summit on Friday, a joint statement was issued expressing concerns over the complicated situation in the South China Sea.

ASEAN leaders stressed "the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, safety, and freedom of navigation and over-flight above the South China Sea, as well as upholding international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS, in the South China Sea".

The majority of islands in the South China Sea are controlled by Beijing, however, the territory is also claimed by several other countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei and the Philippines, all members of ASEAN.