BEIJING (AFP) - China on Thursday (May 31) rejected accusations from top US officials that it seeks hegemony in Asia and is pushing militarisation in the South China Sea.
Outgoing US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, set to become Washington's ambassador in South Korea, had said on Wednesday that while North Korea posed the most imminent threat to the United States, China's "dream of hegemony in Asia" was his country's biggest long-term challenge.
The comments were not surprising, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing on Thursday, given that "those who seek and indulge in hegemony will always think that others are coveting their own hegemony".
But "no matter how developed China may become, it will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion," she added.
Defence Secretary James Mattis had vowed Tuesday that the US would keep confronting China over its territorial claims in the South China Sea - where Beijing has established a significant military presence on contested islands.
US diplomats and foreign nations alike were "very concerned about this continued militarisation" in the region, he told reporters.
But Hua termed Mattis' comments "rather ridiculous".
"China was not the first country to deploy weapons in the South China Sea, nor is it the country with the most weapons there, and neither is it the country with the most frequent military activities" there, she said.
"As for exactly who is pushing militarisation, everyone can drop the scales from their eyes to see that the answer is self-evident."
Mattis in February unveiled the US National Defense Strategy which made clear Washington will focus on Asia in the context of China's growing military might.
Meanwhile, Chinese Ministry of Defence spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Thursday that the country's sole operational aircraft carrier - the "Liaoning" - has reached initial combat readiness.
The carrier group has conducted multiple exercises which have "effectively tested (its) comprehensive attack and defence system" and prepared it for combat operations on the open seas, he said.