Exercise navigation, but not military actions in South China Sea: Beijing

File photo: Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea

Asserting that there is no problem of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Beijing said no country should use any excuse to engage in militarisation in the region.

China, which claims almost all of the South China Sea, has been unhappy with the US' navigation and overflight patrols in the region over which Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have counterclaims. In September, a Chinese destroyer and a US warship nearly collided in the disputed waters.

"There is no problem of the freedom of navigation and overflight being obstructed, so to use the freedom of navigation and overflight as an excuse to pursue military actions is unjustifiable, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi told a joint press conference here on Friday.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Chinese Minister of National Defence Wei Fenghe were also present at the press conference.

The Chinese leaders are in Washington to set the stage for a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping later this month.

In an apparent attempt to allay the growing global concern about China constructing defence facilities in the disputed territory, Yang said Beijing is only building certain security facilities in response to possible threats from outside.

He said China has undertaken some constructions on the islands and reefs in the region, however, "most of them are civilian facilities" whose purpose is to "serve the interest of the Chinese people and also to provide public goods to others".

Yang said to pursue militarisation in the region will not only undermine the interest of regional countries but will also hurt the nations that take these actions.

Addressing the conference, Mattis said the US adheres strictly to international law and the international maritime rules of the road and it "will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows".

He said the US' commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, one that is underpinned by the rules-based international order and regional stability, is unwavering.

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