Last month a US Navy guided missile destroyer, the USS Lassen, sailed within 12 nautical miles (22 km) of China's Subi Reef in the South China Sea, in what US defense officials called a "freedom of navigation patrol." The patrol drew an angry response from China, which summoned the US ambassador to Beijing over the incident, calling it "blatant provocation."
Chinese Vice FM Zhang Yesui summons US ambassador to China Baucus to protest over US warship entered South China Sea pic.twitter.com/QgPK6SkUn3— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) 27 октября 2015
Subi Reef is in the Spratly Islands archipelago, which China calls the Nansha Islands; it believes all the islands lie wholly within its territorial waters. Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also control some of the islands.
Subi Reef used to only be visible at low tide, but China's land reclamation work on the island has enabled it to build facilities there which "provide a public service" for countries in the region, Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said on Sunday.
"One should never link the military facilities with efforts to militarize the South China Sea. This is a false argument. It is a consistent Chinese position to firmly oppose the militarization of the South China Sea."
Earlier this month, a US Navy official disclosed plans for two more patrols in the Spratly Islands before the end of the year, arguing that the US is asserting the rights of military and civilian vessels to operate there under international law.