Beijing dismisses South China Sea militarisation claims as ‘ridiculous’

A map showing the competing and overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, including Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line that encompasses nearly all of the waters

China has dismissed claims by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that it is militarising the South China sea as “ridiculous”

Mattis said this week that the US would push back against what it sees as China’s militarisation of islands in the disputed waters, after Beijing criticised a freedom of navigation patrol launched by the US Navy last weekend.

Speaking today (Thursday, May 31), China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “The United States military presence in the South China Sea is greater than that of China and other countries that surround the seas combined.” 

Hua also questioned whether the US Navy freedom of navigation operations were really about preserving the right for ships to sail through the region or an attempt to maintain control of the region.

“This sounds like a case of a thief crying ‘stop thief’ to cover their misdeeds,” she said.

The Global Times, a state-backed Chinese newspaper that does not always reflect official policy, said in an editorial today that China must be prepared to forcefully respond to any “extreme” US interference in the South China Sea.

“Aside from deploying defensive weapons on the Spratly Islands, China should build a powerful deterrence system, including an aerial base and a roving naval force and base,” the editorial said.

As we reported on Monday, two US Navy warships sailed within 12 nautical miles of islands claimed by China, prompting an angry response by Beijing.

While Sunday’s patrol had been planned for months — and similar operations have become routine — it came just days after the Pentagon withdrew an invitation to China to attend a major US-hosted naval drill.

Tensions have also been heightened by recent satellite photographs that appear to show truck-mounted surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island.

Also this month, China landed nuclear-capable bombers on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea as part of a training exercise in the region.

Mattis – who has long opposed China’s activities in the disputed waters – is expected to confront Chinese officials when he travels to Singapore for the Shangri-la dialogue, a security forum, this week.