BEIJING • China yesterday criticised the United States for flying B-52 bombers in the vicinity of the South China Sea, and demanded that the US take steps to improve military relations amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
Defence Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang told a monthly briefing that China is resolutely opposed to provocative US military actions in the South China Sea - where China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines have rival claims.
The two countries are battling for influence in the South China Sea, where the US uses warships and fighter jets to regularly challenge China's claims to more than 80 per cent of the waters.
Asked about recent exercises in the sea by US allies France and the UK, Mr Ren said China opposed provocative actions in the name of freedom of navigation.
Pentagon spokesman Dave Eastburn said this week's flights were part of "regularly scheduled operations".
The US rejects China's territorial claims and routinely says the military will "continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows at times and places of our choosing".
"We demand that the US side take a reasonable and mature attitude and act with sincerity, taking concrete actions to improve bilateral... military relations," said Mr Ren.
Separately, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang denied US President Donald Trump's accusation that Beijing is trying to influence the US congressional elections in November.
"We advise the United States to stop this unceasing criticism and slander of China," Mr Geng said at a briefing in Beijing.
"Stop these wrong words and deeds that damage bilateral relations and the basic interests of both countries' peoples."
The two global powers, already engaged in an acrimonious trade war, continue to butt heads over sensitive issues, including the South China Sea and Taiwan.
Last Saturday, China summoned the US envoy in Beijing and postponed military talks to protest against Washington's decision to sanction a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.
Beijing has also denied a request for a US Navy warship, the USS Wasp, to visit Hong Kong, the US consulate in the Chinese city said on Tuesday.
Mr Geng said he had no further comment on the refusal to let the ship dock, or on whether a discussed visit to the US by Defence Minister Wei Fenghe would still be scheduled.
China also expressed anger after the US approved the sale of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to US$330 million (S$450 million) to self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.