China defended its activities in the South China Sea as restrained and responsible on Friday after the US intelligence chief called its expansion of outposts in the region an “aggressive” effort to assert sovereignty.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the country’s activities on shoals and in surrounding waters it claims are “reasonable, legitimate and legal” and that its attitude has been one of “restraint and responsibility.”
China says it has historical claims to a huge swath of the South Sea China that overlaps the claims of several neighbours including Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines, and it objects to what it considers US meddling.
The US says it has a national interest in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in the region.
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper cited China’s expansion of its outposts, including for the stationing of ships and potential airfields, at a US Senate hearing in Washington yesterday.
His comments underscored US concerns about land reclamation activities that could fuel tensions between China and its neighbours.
Clapper described China’s claim to more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea as “exorbitant.”
Hong said China hopes the US can be more “circumspect” regarding the issue. “No other country has a right to make unfounded accusations,” he said at a daily ministry briefing.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies said last week that Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have over the years modified existing land masses in the South China Sea, and the Philippines is planning to upgrade an airport and pier on an island it occupies.
But the think tank said China is unusual in how it has been “dramatically changing the size and structure of physical land features.”
China has had a troop and supply garrison at Gaven Reef since 2003, and began significant construction there last year, building a new artificial island of more than 18 acres (7 hectares).
The main building on the new island appears to have an anti-aircraft tower, the centre said.