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/ Source: Reuters

China should not doubt the U.S. commitment to defend its Asian allies and the prospect of economic retaliation should also discourage Beijing from using force to pursue territorial claims in Asia in the way Russia has in Crimea, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

It was difficult to determine what China's intentions might be, but Russia's annexation of Crimea had heightened concerns among U.S. allies in the region about the possibility of China using force to pursue its claims said Daniel Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia.

China has competing territorial claims with the Philippines, Japan and South Korea, as well as with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan in potentially energy-rich waters in the South China Sea.

The retaliatory sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States, the European Union and others should have a "chilling effect on anyone in China who might contemplate the Crimea annexation as a model," Russel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel on Jan. 26.Ahn Young-joon / AP

This was especially so given the extent of China's economic interdependence with the United States and its Asia neighbors, he added.

He also termed the deployment of large numbers of Chinese vessels in its dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea "problematic" and said that Beijing had taken "what to us appears to be intimidating steps."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about Russel's comments, said he was confusing two different issues.

"No matter whether the Ukraine issue or the South China Sea issue, China has many times expressed its position. Why must this U.S. official mention the two issues in the same breath, and obstinately say these things about China?" Hong told a daily news briefing on Friday.

- Reuters