The Republican Congressman made the comments during a Tuesday committee hearing on security threats to the US. China claims ownership of the oil-rich South China Sea. This claim is contested by the US and several of the country’s neighbours.
According to US military newspaper Navy Times Mr Inhofe commented: “It’s like China is preparing for World War 3.
“You’re talking to our allies over there and you wonder whose side they’re going to be on.”
China has been fortifying and building bases on islands and artificial reefs in the contested ocean.
The Chinese territorial claim overlaps with rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
The US refuses to recognise the Chinese claim, and regularly conducts “freedom of navigation operations” with naval forces in the area.