PEKING (Reuters) – US allegations that China is militarising the South China Sea are "ridiculous," China said Thursday after US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis declared that Washington would fight China's actions on the controversial waterways.
Mattis said Tuesday that the United States would oppose what it sees as China's militarization of the islands in the South China Sea, despite China's condemnation of a trip through the region over the weekend by two US Navy ships.
"The US military presence in the South China Sea is greater than China's and other countries surrounding the oceans," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.
Hua also asked whether the US Navy's "freedom of navigation" was really aimed at securing the ships' right to sail through the region, or an attempt to maintain hegemony.
"That sounds like a case where a thief stops crying" Stop thief "stops to cover his misdeeds," she said.
Defense Department spokesman Ren Guoqiang said on a separate note that they have discovered that the United States has recently "blundered the militarization of the South China Sea and nullified militarization."
No country has the right to make "irresponsible remarks" about China's construction of necessary defense facilities on its own territory, Ren said.
However, he said the United States had formally proposed that Mattis visit China, and both countries coordinated details. He did not specify a date for a possible trip.
The Global Times, a state-sponsored Chinese tabloid that does not reflect official policies, said in an editorial Thursday that China must prepare to respond to any "extreme" US interference in the South China Sea.
"China should not only deploy defensive weapons on the Spratly Islands, but also build a strong deterrent system, including an air base and a naval force and base," the paper said.
Reuters reported for the first time that two US Navy warships sailed near islands in the South China Sea claimed by China on Sunday, causing anger in Beijing that claimed the most strategic waters in which Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian naval units operate.
While Sunday's operation was planned for months and similar operations became routine, it comes at a sensitive time and days after the Pentagon sent an invitation to China to participate in a major US-owned maritime shipping.
Pentagon officials have long complained that China was not sincere enough for its rapid military build-up and the use of islands in the South China Sea to gather information.
Recent satellite photos showed that China has deployed truck-mounted ground-to-air missiles or anti-ship cruise missiles on Woody Island.
This month, China's Air Force landed as part of an exercise on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea bomber. [L3N1
Mattis is expected to have strong words for China at a Shangri-la Dialogue Conference in Singapore on Friday.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Arrangement by Darren Schüttler, Robert Birsel