China has expressed concern over a plan by the United States to bolster its military presence in the disputed waters of the South China Sea in a move the Pentagon has described as ‘demonstrating freedom of navigation.’
“We are severely concerned by relevant remarks made by the American side,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.
The remarks came in reaction to comments by a US official on the previous day that Washington is considering ways of demonstrating freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.
“Freedom of navigation does not mean that the military vessels or aircraft of a foreign country can willfully enter the territorial waters or airspace of another country,” Chunying stated.
Last week, Washington accused Beijing of rapidly building up to 800 hectares (2,000 acres) of an archipelago of more than a hundred artificial islands on the Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands that could be the first airstrip in the South China Sea.
US officials have expressed concern about China’s construction of airfields, surveillance systems and harbors, claiming that the moves could pose a threat to regional stability.
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), citing the officials on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter asked staff to explore sending US Navy surveillance aircraft and vessels to the disputed islands.
Beijing claims sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which is also claimed in part by Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. The disputed territories, which are located in the main shipping routes passing through the South China Sea, are believed to be rich in oil and gas.
Over the past months, tensions have escalated between China and its neighbors over the territories, including the Spratly Islands. The United States has taken sides with its allies against Beijing.
According the the WSJ report, any challenge by the US military in the region could potentially trigger a regional standoff.
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