China today said the US wants to smear its "legitimate" actions in the disputed South China Sea by "playing up the situation", accusing it of sowing discord and muscle-flexing as the war of words between them escalated.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei slammed the remarks of US admiral Harry Harris who warned that China was securing "de facto" control of the South China Sea (SCS) region which has overlapping claims by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
"We have noticed that this official is busy making comments on the South China Sea - sometimes in the US Congress, and sometimes in the Defence Department - which has given us the general impression that he intends to smear China's legitimate and reasonable actions in the South China Sea and sowing discord," Hong said.
"He is finding an excuse for US maritime hegemony and muscle-flexing on the sea," Hong said. "We hope the official will stop playing up the situation and stop seeking publicity in the region."
Harris has said he was concerned about the possibility that China might declare an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the SCS. He accused China of showing determination to achieve military primacy in the region.
Differences over the SCS have strained US-China relations. The US has said it was concerned that the activities could pose challenges to the passeage of ships and aircraft via the region through which a third of the world's oil passes.
"If China continues to arm all of the bases they have reclaimed in the South China Sea, they will change the operational landscape in the region," Harris said yesterday.
"Short of war with the United States, China will exercise de facto control of the South China Sea," he said.
On the other hand, China says the US and its allies are responsible for raising tensions.
Responding to the charges, Hong said China's deployments in the SCS "are reasonable and appropriate homeland defence facilities, and do not constitute militarisation."
"A fallacy remains a fallacy no matter how many times it is repeated, and the truth will ultimately be the truth," Hong said.
Without denying the possibility of an ADIZ, Hong said whether China will announce the ADIZ depends on the situation. He said the general situation currently is stable.
China has conducted a massive programme over the past two years to reclaim land in the SCS.
Satellite images released this week showed China was installing radar gear. It showed that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles and has built a runway to accommodate fighter jets on Woody Island in the Paracels.