U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday told his counterparts in the Indo-Pacific that the United States rejects Beijing's excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea and highlighted evolving multilateral mechanisms such as the "Quad" in tackling global challenges.

According to the State Department, Blinken and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin affirmed during their phone talks that a strong bilateral alliance is vital to a "free and open" Indo-Pacific amid China's growing assertiveness in the region.

On the disputed South China Sea, the new secretary of state, who assumed the post Tuesday, said the United States rejects China's claims in the waters "to the extent they exceed the maritime zones that China is permitted to claim under international law."

Antony Blinken. (Kyodo)  

Tensions have grown over the South China Sea issue as the previous administration of President Donald Trump has slammed Beijing's claims to offshore resources across most of the disputed waters "completely unlawful."

Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas deposits.

"Secretary Blinken pledged to stand with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of PRC pressure," the department said in a press release, citing the acronym of the People's Republic of China.

In a separate phone call with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne, Blinken and Payne expressed their commitment to working together to enhance cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region between like-minded countries, according to the department.

Blinken emphasized the importance of cooperation through multilateral organizations and mechanisms like the Quad, a grouping that also involves Japan and India, to tackle challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, it said.

The former deputy secretary of state also held calls with his British, French and German counterparts, during which climate change and China were among the topics that were discussed, according to the department.