A leading Chinese military general says his country needs to build defensive structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea to assert its sovereignty over nearly the entire region amid tensions between Beijing and Washington.
The vice president of China’s Academy of Military Sciences, Lt. Gen. He Lei, said during a rare meeting with Chinese and foreign journalists on Thursday that Beijing needed to protect its sovereignty over virtually the entire crucial waterway.
“I don’t think any country would want to make irresponsible comments about such matters,” media outlets quoted the general as saying.
The general, however, declined to comment on aircraft deployments on artificial islands China has built in the area, saying those were entirely China’s domestic affairs.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed the United States and its allies for stirring up trouble in the South China Sea.
“Some outside forces are not happy with the prevailing calm, and try to stir up trouble and muddle the waters. Their frequent show of force with fully armed aircraft and naval vessels is the most destabilizing factor in the region,” Wang said.
He also stated that China had been working its Southeast Asian neighbors on completing a code of conduct to prevent frictions in the waterway.
Beijing has, on different occasions, asserted its sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, which serves as a crossing for more $5 trillion worth of maritime trade annually. The sea is also claimed in part by the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the Chinese general defended China’s 8.1 percent increase in its defense budget announced Monday, which brings it to a record $173 billion, the world’s second largest.
China this year is spending 1.25 percent of its GDP and 5.2 percent of the total government budget on the armed forces, considerably lower than the US military budget, He said.
“So really, an increase of 8.1 percent is still pretty low,” the general added.
Chinese state media also said on Tuesday that the 8.1-percent rise in the country’s defense budget was neither a huge percentage of the whole budget nor a sharp increase compared to the 2016 or 2017 defense budgets.