Beijing brushes off US admiral’s remarks

A mock-up of a “future” Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. Source: Deviantart

Beijing has criticised a US admiral on the South China Sea and urged Washington stop exaggerating the situation.

On Thursday US Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry Harris on Thursday said he feared China was trying to declare an Air-Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea, adding that Washington would ignore any such designation.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “We have noticed that this official is busy making comments on the South China Sea, sometimes in the US Congress, and sometimes in the Defence Department, which has given us the general impression that he intends to smear China’s legitimate and reasonable actions in the South China Sea and sowing discord. He is finding an excuse for US maritime hegemony and muscle-flexing on the sea.

“We hope the official will stop playing up the situation and stop seeking publicity in the region. A fallacy remains a fallacy no matter how many times it is repeated, and the truth will ultimately be the truth,” Hong added.

The spokesman claimed Beijing was deploying defence facilities on its territory, in a reasonable and proper way, not “militarisation”. The islands where the Chinese have been building military installations and delivering hardware are claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam while China has other overlapping claims with Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Whether China will announce an ADIZ depended on the situation, Xinhua reported. The general situation of the South China Sea was currently stable, Hong said.

The announcement comes as Australia said it would boost defence spending by more than 81 per cent over the next decade, including increasing naval capacity to counter China’s grip on the sea.

The US would continue to be the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades and would remain Australia’s strategic partner, according to Canberra’s 2016 Defence White Paper.

The defence budget would rise from A$32.4 billion (US$23.2 billion) this financial year to A$58.7 billion by 2025-26, it said, while calling for greater transparency from Beijing in its strategy.

“While China will not match the global strategic weight of the US, the growth of China’s national power, including its military modernisation, means China’s policies and actions will have a major impact on the stability of the Indo-Pacific,” the paper said.

Australia hosts US marines and military exercises in its remote north while seeking stronger economic links with its largest trading partner, China.

“While major conflict between the US and China is unlikely, there are a number of points of friction in the region in which differences between the US and China could generate rising tensions,” the paper said. These included the “East and South China Seas, the airspace above those seas, and in the rules that govern international behaviour, particularly in the cyber and space domains,” it added.

The government committed to buying 12 submarines as part of its Future Fleet Programme, nine new anti-submarine frigates and 12 offshore patrol vessels.