A senior Chinese politician defended Beijing’s right to build facilities on artificial islands in the South China Sea in comments that were seen as a veiled attack on the United States.
The remarks on Thursday by Wang Guoqing, spokesman for the country’s top political advisory body, came after a US aircraft carrier group was sent to the disputed waters, and the PLA Navy staged combat exercises in the Western Pacific.
China and the US have waged a bitter war of words over maritime issues, with Washington accusing Beijing of militarising and obstructing freedom of navigation in the waters through its construction activities.
But without naming any particular nation, Wang dismissed such criticism as “much ado about nothing”.
“Though peace reigns over the land, the stupid people create trouble for themselves,” Wang said before the opening of the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
“As the world’s largest trader and the country with the most coastline along the South China Sea, we care about the safety and freedom of navigation more than any other country,” he said, adding that the facilities China had built were necessary for defence and had contributed to navigational safety and rescue efforts.
The US Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group was reportedly patrolling in the waters last week. And yesterday, a number of PLA Navy bombers, jet fighters and early warning aircraft flew east through international airspace above the Miyako Strait near Japan’s Okinawa Island, conducting exercises with a Chinese naval fleet in the area, Xinhua reported.
China has stepped up its naval presence in the Western Pacific, with the Liaoning aircraft carrier passing through the Miyako Strait last year before going through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines.
China had nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appeared designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, US officials said last week. Analysts say the US presence in the waters will be strengthened after US President Donald Trump’s pledge to increase the defence budget.
Teng Jianqun, from the China Institute of International Studies, said China and the US were in a “dilemma” over the South China Sea.
“I don’t think the US will compromise on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, while China is trying to become a maritime power,” he said.
Wang also said China still had one of the world’s fastest rates of economic growth, with gross domestic product expanding by 6.7 per cent last year despite the global economic downturn.
“We definitely have reason to believe that China will remain the strongest engine in the world’s economy in the new year,” he said.
Additional reporting by Liu Zhen and Kristin Huang