China on Friday accused the United States of militarizing the South China Sea, days after deploying missiles to a disputed island in the area.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that patrols by U.S. military aircraft and Navy vessels, as well as joint exercises with regional partners, were the cause of growing concerns over stability. The U.S. military didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Navy recently challenged attempts by China and other nations to restrict navigation in the South China Sea and sailed the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur near an island in the area.
Commercial satellite imagery cited by the Taiwanese Defense Ministry on Wednesday showed that China deployed advanced anti-aircraft batteries on Woody Island, which China has occupied since 1974. The island is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The revelation came as President Obama called for reduced tensions in the region at the conclusion of a summit with Southeast Asian leaders.
The South China Sea has become a flashpoint as China and countries in the region seek control of trade routes and under-sea mineral deposits. China has been hauling massive amounts of sand and other material to build on reefs and other features, setting up landing strips.
China says it is building the islands mainly for civil purposes and that the intention is to provide more goods and services to the international community.
“The limited self-defense facilities deployed on the islands are the result of China’s right to self-defense granted by international law, which has nothing to do with militarization. It is natural and fully legitimate,” Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi said Thursday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Contributing: John Bacon