BEIJING – China's Defense Ministry says the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific smeared China while seeking additional defense funding from Congress, in the latest accusation in a war of words accompanying rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Ministry spokesman Col. Wu Qian on Thursday strongly criticized Adm. Harry Harris Jr.'s testimony before Congress, in which Harris said China was militarizing the economically and strategically vital waterway and seeking "hegemony" in East Asia. China adamantly denies such accusations and says Washington and its allies are responsible for raising tensions.
"I have noted that according to media reports, Adm. Harris made his remarks while seeking additional defense budget funds from Congress," Wu told reporters at a monthly news briefing.
"We don't interfere in your seeking defense budget funds, but you can't carelessly smear China while asking for more money," Wu said.
In his testimony before the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Harris commented on the Chinese armed forces' construction and extension of islands in the highly disputed South China Sea. China is also adding airstrips, harbors, radar stations and other infrastructure and deploying surface-to-air missiles on some.
Harris described Chinese militarization as being "as certain as a traffic jam" in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, he told senators that to believe otherwise, "you have to believe in a flat Earth."
He has also dismissed as "tone deaf" a Chinese government official who compared China's deployment of defense facilities on land features in the South China Sea to what the U.S. does in undisputed Hawaii.
In all, China has reclaimed more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land in the South China Sea as it looks to assert what it contends is its historical right to sovereignty over most of those waters.
Five other Asian governments have territorial claims there.
Harris' use of the term "hegemony" in his testimony is especially grating to Beijing, which has long made its self-avowed aversion to that goal a centerpiece of its foreign policy message.
China claims it is entitled like any other nation to deploy whatever defensive systems it sees fit on its island claims. Despite that endorsement of the sovereign rights of nations, Wu reiterated China's strong opposition to the potential deployment in South Korea of a defensive missile defense system against North Korea.
China says the system's radar coverage would extend into China, harming its national security interests. Harris said it was "preposterous" that China would try to "wedge itself" between South Korea and the U.S. over the issue.
Despite raising fears of a confrontation at sea, the recent frictions don't appear to be having a lasting effect on U.S.-China military exchanges. Wu said China remained fully committed to taking part in this June's Rim of the Pacific naval drills that the U.S. Pacific Fleet hosts every two years.
"U.S.-China military-to-military relations are maintaining stable development momentum," Wu said.