Beijing lambasted the US Defense Department on Sunday over its annual report on the state of China’s military, calling it a “hyped-up” move that “deliberately distorted the nation’s defense policies.”
Released Friday, the report said that China has used “coercive tactics” to boost its presence and control over disputed areas of the South China Sea and is shifting gears to beef up its military assets in the contested waters.
Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun expressed Beijing’s “strong dissatisfaction” and “firm opposition” to the report, which he said “misrepresented China’s military development,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
“China follows a national defense policy that is defensive in nature,” Xinhua quoted Yang as saying. “Moves such as deepening military reforms and the military buildup are aimed at maintaining sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, and guaranteeing China’s peaceful development.”
The US, he added, has “always been suspicious.”
The Pentagon report, Washington’s most detailed yet on the subject of China’s island-building program, said that while Beijing had paused its land-reclamation work in the disputed Spratly Islands late last year after adding more than 3,200 acres (1,280 hectares) of land to seven features it occupies there, the man-made islets give it long-term “civil-military” outposts from where it can project power.
Yang denied this, saying that China’s construction in the Spratlys has been mostly for civilian purposes, helping it fulfill international responsibilities, the report said. It is the United States, Yang said, that has been flexing its military muscle by sending military aircraft and warships to the region.
The US has conducted what it calls “freedom of navigation operations” in the disputed waters, with the most recent coming Tuesday around Fiery Cross Reef, a Chinese-controlled man-made islet in the Spratly chain.
Yang’s comments come as Beijing seeks to shore up its position ahead of a key ruling on its claims to most of the South China Sea at the Permanent Court of Arbitration that is expected soon. The court is widely expected to rule in favor of the Philippines, which filed the case.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan also claim parts of the resource-rich waters through which nearly $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year.
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