Beijing has dismissed allegations that it is “militarizing” the South China Sea after landing bombers at an air base in the disputed waters.
The accusations were leveled after the Chinese Air Force for the first time carried out landing and take-off drills on an islet in the South China Sea on Friday as part of efforts to deal with maritime security threats.
The training exercise prompted immediate criticism from the United States, with a Pentagon spokesman slamming China’s “continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea.”
Defending the deployment of bombers to the contested waters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a regular briefing on Monday that “the South China Sea islands are Chinese territories.”
Lu also dismissed concerns that the deployment had escalated tensions in the region, and instead accused Washington of increasing tensions with its own military footprint.
The movement of the bombers into the area was “part of the normal training for the Chinese military,” the spokesman said, adding that the US “sending its own warships and planes to the region ... poses a danger to other countries.”
Beijing has on numerous occasions stressed that its military drills in the South China Sea are part of routine military training.
Earlier in the month, the White House said it was prepared to take measures against any activities aimed at the militarization of the South China Sea, after reports said Beijing had deployed new missiles on three outposts in the hotly contested region.
American media, citing sources close to US intelligence, reported that the Chinese military had over the last 30 days installed anti-ship and air-to-air defenses on the Spratly Islands, known as Nansha in China, which are claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry defended the country’s peaceful construction on the islands, including "the deployment of necessary national defense facilities."
Beijing has repeatedly asserted its sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which serves as a crossing for more that $5 trillion worth of maritime trade annually. The sea is also claimed in part by the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The US has been taking sides with several of China’s neighbors in their territorial disputes in the busy sea, and stepped up its military presence in the South China Sea under the pretext of freedom of navigation operations in international waters.
China calls the US military presence in the region an instance of meddling and warns it’s likely to stir regional tensions. Beijing's deployment of defensive facilities in the region is believed to be partly motivated by the US military buildup.
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