04:16 GMT05 August 2021
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    Beijing is already in control of the vast majority of the islands and shoals in the South China Sea, which are also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. US Vice President Mike Pence insists that the disputed South China Sea area is not the domain of any one country.

    Chinese Navy academy researcher Senior Captain Zhang Junshe has reiterated Beijing's position on the matter, insisting that the Asian superpower has the legal right to take any steps to expand its clout in the South China Sea.

    Zhang also warned that "if our on-island personnel and installations come under threat in future, then we necessarily will take measures to boost our defensive capabilities".

    READ MORE: 'We Will Not Seek Hegemony': Beijing Expects South China Sea Rulebook in 3 Years

    Separately, he claimed that the US Navy jeopardises regional security by conducting its "freedom of navigation" missions in areas adjacent to the South China Sea islands.

    The comments came after US Vice President Mike Pence claimed in mid-November that the disputed South China Sea "doesn't belong to any one nation".

    "[…] You can be sure: the United States will continue to sail and fly wherever international law allows and our national interests demand," Pence said.

    Washington has repeatedly accused Beijing of building artificial islands in the South China Sea region and constructing facilities on the contested islands, voicing concerns that they could be used to restrict free movement and broaden Beijing's strategic reach.

    READ MORE: WATCH Chinese, US Warships Narrowly Avoid Collision in South China Sea

    Apart from "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea, US Air Force bombers sometimes conduct "flyovers". These operations have prompted Beijing, in turn, to urge Washington to stop "actions that undermine China's sovereignty and security interests".

    Earlier, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi stressed that China had "indisputable sovereignty" over the region's disputed Spratly Islands and has the right to build civilian and defence facilities on the territory. 

    Jiechi was echoed by Lt. Gen. He Lei, vice president of the Chinese People's Liberation Army's Academy of Military Science, in turn, who said that China has a sovereign right to deploy its forces and equipment on artificial South China Sea islands and considers any criticism of its actions to be interference in its domestic affairs.

    China and six more countries, including Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan, have competing claims over parts of the South China Sea, a strategic and economically important waterway through which some $5 trillion in annual global trade passes. 

    China controls the vast majority of the sea's islands, reefs and shoals, and has built a number of artificial islands in a bid to further shore up its claims.


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