Admiral Philip Davidson, the commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, claimed on Thursday that 2018 has seen an increase in Chinese military activity in the South China Sea.
“It’s building, it’s not reducing in any sense of the word. There has been more activity with ships, fighters and bombers over the last year than in previous years, absolutely," Davidson said.
He argued that this activity poses a hazard to trade, "commercial activity and financial information that flows on cables under the South China Sea”.
Davidson declined to elaborate on whether the number of US freedom of navigation patrols would increase in connection with China’s increased activity in the area.
At the same time, he stressed Washington’s drive to remain engaged, touting the US as an “enduring Pacific power”.
His remarks come after Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying blamed last month US vessels for illegally entering waters near the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that Beijing continues to regard as its "indisputable sovereignty”.
Hua stressed that Beijing respected freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but would not tolerate the use of this freedom as a pretext for undermining the country's sovereignty and security.
"We strongly call on the US party to immediately stop these provocative actions […] The Chinese party will take all necessary measures to resolutely defend its sovereignty and security as well as the stability in the South China Sea," the spokeswoman underscored.
Beijing controls the vast majority of islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, and is building up an array of artificial islands in a bid to further shore up its claims which are questioned by the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan, among other countries.
Beijing insists on negotiating the issue at the regional level, while the US has initiated naval freedom of navigation missions to contest China's claims.