China says US guilty of “political provocation” in South China Sea

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China said on Sunday that the United States (US) was making political provocations with its patrols in the disputed South China Sea, as tensions around the strategic waterways mount.

China will continue to construct military facilities on artificial islands it is building, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur. The facilities are needed to protect the islands, he said.

Washington was testing Beijing with its insistence on “freedom of navigation” in the strategic waterway, he said.

China, which claims almost the entire energy-rich South China Sea, has been transforming reefs into artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago and building airfields and other facilities on some of them.

That has prompted concerns in Washington and across the region that Beijing is trying to militarise its claims in the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, US B-52 bombers flew near some of the artificial islands, signalling Washington’s determination to challenge Beijing’s claim. At the end of October, the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, challenged territorial limits around one of the islands.

“This time, in a very high profile manner, the US sent military vessels within 12 nautical miles of China’s islands and reefs,” Liu said. “This has gone beyond the scope of freedom of navigation. It is a political provocation and the purpose is to test China’s response.”