BEIJING: As the Trump administration pressed China to curb North Korea, Beijing issued its own warning over another festering dispute on Friday, saying that American naval operations in the South China Sea would only force it to deepen its military buildup there.
The warning came after a United States Navy destroyer, the John S. McCain, on Thursday passed near Mischief Reef, which China claims as its territory. These freedom of navigation operations near contested islands and reefs across the South China Sea are meant to show that the United States does not accept that China or any other claimant can legally challenge an American naval presence in the area.
But in separate statements, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense accused the United States of stirring regional conflict and suggested that such operations bolstered China’s case for building military facilities across the sea to defend its claimed territory. Vietnam, the Philippines and other governments also claim islands and adjacent waters in the sea.
“We strongly urge the United States to immediately mend its ways and end illegal provocations in the name of so-called freedom of navigation,” Senior Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense, said on its website on Friday. “The American military provocation will only induce the Chinese military to further build up various defensive capacities.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not commented about the escalating crisis on its website, and its regular news briefings are in summer recess. Chinese leaders have also not commented publicly.
But Beijing’s reaction to the latest American naval operation has underscored that China has its own geopolitical sore points with the White House, including weapons sales to Taiwan and the repeated freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.