China can end territorial spats peacefully: US Senator

Michelle Loh | News Assistant
US Senator: China, Vietnam need direct dialogue

The best way for China to resolve issues with its neighbors is for everyone to sit down and "work it out", U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific, said.

"We're not a claimant, they are - work it out! The best way to do it is through direct dialogue and we've seen countries in this region resolve territorial issues which are pretty difficult," he said at the Shangri-La Dialogue over the weekend.

"Where the United States will continue to play a very strong role is that we want to make sure the maritime issues are resolved peacefully so that commerce can continue through the China Sea, and that you use international means to accomplish it," Cardin added, noting the U.S. is committed to open passage through the South China Sea.

Read MoreUS: the only counterweight to China

U.S. Secretary of State Chuck Hagel delivered a fiery address to the Shangri-La Dialogue, warning China that while the U.S had no position on territorial claims in Asia, it would not "look the other way" if the international order was challenged.

The South China Sea is one of the world's busiest water ways, with around 80 percent of crude oil transports passing through the region. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have all staked claims to the region.

Senator Cardin's comments come in the wake of increased geopolitical tensions over the placement of a Chinese oil rig in contested waters. Tensions came to a head last month when the Chinese coast guard reportedly rammed Vietnamese boats, while violent anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam left six people dead.

Read MoreA turning point at last for China's economy?

"The fact that China used a full military escort is pretty provocative. I don't know why China did it that way - it makes no sense to me at all," he said. "They could have easily worked out some way of using international protocols to explain what they were doing, give opportunities for debate, and work out an agreement."

Vietnamese and Philippine protesters shout anti-China slogans in front of the Chinese consular office in Manila.
Ted Aljibe | AFP | Getty Images

Meanwhile, relations between Tokyo and Beijing have also soured in recent months following a dispute in the East China Sea over islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Senator Cardin defended U.S. President Obama's "Pivot to Asia", noting he's proud of American leadership around the world and that the decision to focus on Asia is about more than just geopolitics.

Read MoreChina accusesUS, Japan of 'provocative action'

"The Pivot's about all the above. It's about security. Security involves military, security involves economic, [and] security involves good governance."

When pressed to a give a deadline for the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Cardin said that he's confident it would go ahead.

"When we get an agreement that we can be proud of, that really elevates the status not only with regards to removing traditional trade barriers, but also in dealing with good governance and anti-corruption initiatives like that, I think that type of agreement will be winnable," he said.