BEIJING • China's Defence Ministry yesterday accused the United States of "militarising" the South China Sea by staging patrols and joint military drills there, ramping up the rhetoric ahead of a key regional security meeting in Malaysia next week.
Beijing has repeatedly urged Washington not to take sides in the escalating maritime dispute over the area, where the Asian giant last year stepped up its creation of artificial islands, alarming neighbours and provoking US criticism.
Washington has demanded that Beijing halt land reclamation and militarisation of the disputed area, and pursue a peaceful resolution according to international law.
China has been angered by US navy and air force forays through waters it claims as its own, especially this month, when US Navy Admiral Scott Swift said he joined a routine surveillance flight.
The US has also stepped up military contacts with regional allies such as the Philippines, which also has claims in the South China Sea.
The US was hyping up the "China threat" and trying to sow discord between China and other claimant nations, Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told a news briefing.
"China is extremely concerned at the United States' pushing of the militarisation of the South China Sea region," he said. "What they are doing can't help but make people wonder whether they want nothing better than chaos."
For a long time, the US has carried out frequent, widespread and close-in surveillance of China, by sending ships and aircraft to the region, Mr Yang added.
"Recently, they have further increased military alliances and their military presence, frequently holding joint drills."
But if certain US officials want to take civilian flights over the South China Sea to "enjoy its beauty", China has no problem with that, Mr Yang said.
China's own drills there were a normal part of its routine military exercises and not aimed at any third party, he said.
But he expressed concern at reports that Philippine fishermen had found buoys with Chinese markings near the disputed Scarborough Shoal and towed them back to shore north-west of Manila.
"If these reports are correct, then certain people have elbowed their way into somebody else's home, and taken others' possessions."
The head of the Philippine military, General Hernando Iriberri, yesterday told journalists in Manila it was investigating reports that China had reclaimed three more reefs in the South China Sea, as well as activities at Scarborough Shoal.
The area is likely to feature prominently at next week's security meeting in Malaysia, which will be attended by South-east Asian and Chinese foreign ministers and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Meanwhile, China announced yesterday that it would conduct joint naval and air defence drills with Russia in the Sea of Japan from Aug 20 to 28.
The drills could alarm Japan, which is involved in an ongoing spat with China over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea. The Diaoyu or Senkaku islands are located to the south of the Sea of Japan.