China's Defence Ministry today accused the US of militarising the South China Sea as Beijing makes increasingly bold moves to assert its claim to virtually all of the sea's waters, islands and reefs.
Spokesman Yang Yujun's remarks were prompted by comments last week from the head of the US Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, criticising Chinese projects to build up islands in disputed waters.
Harris warned such work could undermine international norms that have long supported the global economy and political order.
Speaking at a monthly news conference, Yang said China rejected such claims totally and accused the US of ulterior motives.
"The US side disregards and distorts the facts and plays up China's military threat to sow discord between China and the littoral states in the South China Sea. We firmly oppose such actions," Yang said.
US close-in reconnaissance of the Chinese armed forces, strengthened military alliances with the Philippines and others, and frequent military exercises are raising tensions and creating risks of incidents in the air and at sea, Yang said.
"The Chinese side expresses its serious concern over US activities to militarise the South China Sea region," he said. "Such actions taken by the US side would inevitably arouse suspicion from others that, does the US want nothing better than chaos in the region?"
China and five other claimants have competing claims to all or part of the South China Sea, home to rich fishing grounds, potentially significant mineral reserves and some of the world's most crucial shipping lanes.
Harris said last week the South China Sea was now "front and center in the tug-of-war between the majority of regional nations that want to maintain the status quo and China that wants to change it to suit its narrow self-interest."
China accuses the US of maintaining a double standard by not criticizing work by other countries on their South China Sea holdings.
However, Harris said the amount of land reclaimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan over the last 45 years totaled a mere 40 hectares (100 acres), a fraction of the more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) reclaimed by China in the last 18 months alone.