China is defending its activities in the South China Sea as restrained and responsible after the U.S. intelligence chief called its expansion of outposts in the region an "aggressive" effort to assert sovereignty.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday that the country's activities on shoals and in surrounding waters that it claims are "reasonable, legitimate and legal" and that Beijing has shown "restraint and responsibility."

China says it has historical claims to a huge swath of the South Sea China that overlaps the claims of several neighbors including Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines, and it objects to what it considers U.S. meddling.

The U.S. says it has a national interest in the peaceful resolution of the disputes in the region.