China accused countries of meddling in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on Tuesday after U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Scott Swift warned of a possible arms race in the region.
The U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander has warned that a potential arms race in the disputed South China Sea could engulf the region, as nations become increasingly tempted to use military force to settle territorial spats instead of international law.
Swift said he was concerned that after many decades of peace and prosperity the region may be seeing a return of "might makes it right" attitudes, adding that many countries were transferring larger shares of national wealth to develop more capable naval forces beyond what is needed merely for self defence.
Asked about Swift's comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his country would continue to deal with the countries involve through dialogue.
"China will persist in dealing with the controversy in question directly with the countries involved through discussion and consultation. This determination is immoveable. China and ASEAN have been consistently committed to maintaining peace and stability in the South China sea. The overall situation in the South China sea is stable. Certain countries are exaggerating tensions in the South China Sea region, which is in reality to create confusion and meddle in the South China Sea. China is resolutely opposed to this," he said.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade ships every year, a fifth of it heading to and from U.S. ports.
Beijing is building seven man-made islands on reefs in the Spratly Islands, including a 3,000-metre-long (10,000-foot) airstrip on one of the sites, according to satellite imagery of the area.
In October, the U.S. guided missile destroyer Lassen sailed close to one of China's man-made islands, drawing an angry rebuke from China and a shadowing patrol.
However, the U.S. Navy is unlikely to carry out another patrol within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-built islands in the South China Sea this year as officials had initially suggested, U.S. defence officials say.
Australia's Defence Department said one of its aircraft was involved in "a routine maritime patrol" over the South China Sea from Nov. 25 to Dec. 4. The BBC reported the aircraft was "exercising international freedom of navigation rights".
"I want to declare once again that there is no problem with freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. Countries outside the region should respect other country's sovereignty and not deliberately complicate the issue," Hong said when asked about the Australian patrol.
In a challenge to China's island building program, Manila has asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to affirm its right to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline, under the terms of a U.N. convention.
Beijing so far has rejected the courts jurisdiction and has boycotted the hearing. Rulings are supposed to be binding on its member countries, which include China, but the tribunal has no powers of enforcement and its verdicts have sometimes been ignored.