BEIJING — A Chinese military official on Saturday blasted the United States for making "threats" after the US defense chief accused Beijing of inflaming tensions in the disputed South China Sea, state television reported.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had denounced China's "destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea," at a security forum in Singapore which both officials are attending.
The Chinese army's deputy chief of staff Wang Guanzhong described Hagel's comments at the Shangri-La Dialogue as baseless.
"Secretary Hagel's speech is full of threats and intimidating language. Secretary Hagel's speech is full of encouragement, incitement for the Asia region's instability giving rise to a disturbance," state broadcaster China Central Television quoted Wang as telling reporters.
"Secretary Hagel, in this kind of public space with many people, openly criticised China without reason. This accusation is completely without basis," Wang said.
Tensions have recently flared in the South China Sea, claimed almost entirely by China, which has lately taken bold steps to enforce what it says are its historical rights.
Wang added the value of the Shangri-La Dialogue was to encourage exchanges, sometimes blunt, between governments and think-tanks but China should not be accused without basis, CCTV said.
China's official Xinhua news agency on Saturday accused the United States of raising tensions in Asia, following Hagel's speech.
"The United States has been trying to practise its approach of ensuring the safety of its allies by maintaining its military dominance," it said. "It even adopted the strategy of stoking fires to do this with the influence felt and visibly seen behind the tensions on the South China Sea."
China has sought to counter Washington's foreign policy "pivot" to Asia, but it has also angered Vietnam, Japan and the Philippines -- the latter two US allies -- with what those countries say are aggressive moves in separate maritime rows.
Relations between China and Vietnam have worsened after Beijing sent a deep-water oil drilling rig into contested waters in the South China Sea.
The Philippines accuses China of reclaiming land on a disputed reef within its exclusive economic zone under a United Nations convention, while Beijing and Tokyo have a long-running feud over disputed islands in the East China Sea.
On Friday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, also speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, vowed that his country would play a larger role in promoting peace in Asia and called for the rule of law to be upheld in the region.
Another commentary published by Xinhua on Saturday dismissed the speech as seeking to mask Japan's military ambitions.
"Such rhetoric is fundamentally flawed when it came from the nationalist leader who has been trying to conjure up the militarist past of Japan in a drive to re-arm his country," it said. ■