The Pentagon on Thursday called out China over test launches of ballistic missiles in the South China Sea, a move that the United States views as “counterproductive” to quelling tensions in the region.
The Defense Department — in a confirmation of reports that Beijing’s military launched up to four ballistic missiles during military exercises around the Paracel Islands — said the action violates China’s 2002 commitment to “avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”
“Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability,” the Defense Department said in a statement. “The [People’s Republic of China’s (PRC)] actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea.”
A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense later said during a briefing in Beijing that the country had conducted previously planned drills but did not mention the missile launches and said that the exercises “are not directed at any country.”
Ties between the United States and China have grown increasingly strained over sovereignty over the South China Sea, where Beijing has steadily built up military installations on several disputed reefs.
China claims more than 80 percent of a 1.4 million-square-mile section of the sea where Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have territorial claims.
The United States, which maintains that the area must remain open for free passage for all international vessels, on Wednesday increased pressure on China when it announced it is implementing travel restrictions on some Chinese officials over the nation’s moves to bolster its presence in the disputed waters.
“This military exercise is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors,” the Pentagon said.
It added that the Defense Department in July alerted China that the U.S. government urges it to “reduce its militarization and coercion of its neighbors” in the region.
But it said “the PRC chose to escalate its exercise activities by firing ballistic missiles.”