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China has denounced as “irresponsible remarks” what US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said about Beijing’s “militarization” of the South China Sea during a security forum at the weekend.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comment in a statement late on Sunday after Mattis accused China of showing “contempt” for other nations’ interests and disregarding international law.
The Pentagon chief had also mentioned in the Singapore defense summit that the “construction” and “militarization” of artificial islands in the South China Sea would undermine regional stability.
Hua, reacting to Mattis’ remarks, said, “China has indisputable sovereignty over the (Spratly) Islands and their adjacent waters,” adding that the sovereign activities undertaken by Beijing had nothing to do with militarization.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said countries around the South China Sea had tried to lower tensions, but others outside the region “have been bent on going against the trend, making repeated erroneous remarks, ignoring the facts and confusing black from white with entirely ulterior motives.”
“China is resolutely opposed to this and urges the concerned parties to stop issuing irresponsible remarks and fully respect the efforts of the countries in the region to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and play a constructive role in this regard,” she said.
Hua further noted that China had always respected freedom of navigation but opposed shows of military force in the South China Sea in the name of such exercises as threats to China’s sovereignty and security.
Last Wednesday, a US Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed South China Sea island controlled by China, the first such challenge to Beijing since US President Donald Trump took office.
China has repeatedly warned the United States against any military activities in the South China Sea.
The South China Sea is located between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei and hosts one of the world’s busiest waterways and is believed to be rich in mineral and gas deposits and fishing grounds. The neighboring countries have long disputed the ownership of the territories in the water body, through which about $5 trillion of global sea-borne trade passes each year.
However, Beijing claims all the contested sea, including waters and rocks close to the shores of neighbors, and has been building artificial islands and installing military equipment on them, including on some reefs in the Spratly chain, which are also claimed by Manila.
The regional military presence of the United States, which always takes sides with China’s rival claimants in the disputed waters, has been a source of concern for China’s leadership.