BEIJING (AFP) - A Chinese military official on Saturday blasted the United States for making "threats" after the US defence chief accused Beijing of inflaming tensions in the disputed South China Sea, state television reported.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had denounced China's "destabilising, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea", at a security forum in Singapore which both officials are attending.
The Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Wang Guanzhong described Mr Hagel's comments as baseless, and condemned him for making them to a public audience of fellow defence chiefs, diplomats and security experts attending the annual Shangri-La Dialogue.
"This speech is full of hegemony, full of incitement, threats, intimidation," Mr Wang was quoted as saying by a reporter from state broadcaster China Central Television. "This speech is completely non-constructive and moreover is public, several times criticising China by name, and these kinds of accusations are completely without basis, without reason," Mr Wang said.
Tensions have recently flared in the South China Sea, claimed almost entirely by China, which has lately taken bold steps to enforce what it says are its historical rights. He added the value of the Shangri-La Dialogue was to encourage exchanges, sometimes blunt, between governments and think-tanks but China should not be accused without basis.
China has sought to counter Washington's foreign policy "pivot" to Asia, but it has also angered Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines - the latter two US allies - with what those countries say are aggressive moves in separate maritime rows.
Relations between China and Vietnam have worsened after Beijing sent a deep-water oil drilling rig into contested waters in the South China Sea.
The Philippines accuses China of reclaiming land on a disputed reef within its exclusive economic zone under a United Nations convention, while Beijing and Tokyo have a long-running feud over disputed islands in the East China Sea.