(REUTERS) — U.S. officials expressed concerns on Tuesday (May 26) over China’s maritime ambitions after the ceremonial opening of two lighthouses in disputed waters, developments likely to escalate tensions in a region.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama considered the security situation in the South China Sea.
“The president has often talked about how critically important the security situation is in the South China Sea. It’s critical to the national security of the United States. It’s also created to the global economy, that their free flow of commerce in the South China sea is something that needs to be maintained. And the United States has committed to working with other countries in the region to protect it. And because it is a priority, yes, you can expect that the president has been briefed on the latest in this situation and will continue to be,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at the daily briefing.
China has been taking an increasingly assertive posture over recent years in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where it has engaged in extensive land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago.
China claims most of the South China Sea and criticised Washington last week after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs. Both sides accused each other of stoking instability.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington continued “to urge China to exhibit greater transparency with respect to its capabilities and its intentions” and “to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We also continue to urge China to exhibit greater transparency with respect to its capabilities and its intentions. So, in conjunction to it we encourage China to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said.
Jeff Rathke reiterated at a briefing the U.S. view that China’s reclamation work had contributed to rising tensions and said building up of underwater features did not confer a right to a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone.
China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China’s reclamation in the Spratlys was comparable with construction of homes and roads on the mainland.
Some countries with “ulterior motives” had unfairly characterized China’s military presence and sensationalised the issue, he said. Surveillance in the region was increasingly common and China would continue to take “necessary measures” to respond.
In a policy document issued by the State Council, the Communist-ruled country’s cabinet, China vowed to increase its “open seas protection”, switching from air defense to both offence and defense, and criticized neighbors who take “provocative actions” on its reefs and islands.