BEIJING (Reuters) -The Chinese defence ministry urged the United States on Thursday to rein in its frontline forces which Beijing has said have become more active in the air and seas near China this year.
China has frequently maintained that a U.S. military presence in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Taiwan Strait is the main destabilising factor in the region. The United States has said it has freedom of navigation in these areas, which China regards as its geo-strategic backyard.
Since U.S. President Joe Biden U.S. took office in January, operations of U.S. warships in the seas around China have risen by 20%, while the activity of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft has risen by 40% compared with last year, Chinese defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a press briefing on Thursday.
“We urge the U.S. side to strictly restrain its frontline forces, abide by regulations including the Rules of Behaviour for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters and International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, and prevent similar dangerous incidents from happening again,” Wu said.
Asked for a response, Biden’s National Security Council referred Reuters to the U.S. Department of Defense, which declined to comment.
The U.S. Navy earlier this month took the rare step of publishing a photo on its main website of a U.S. guided missile destroyer, the USS Mustin, watching China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier carry out an exercise.
Wu said the USS Mustin had interfered with the Chinese exercise and threatened the freedom of navigation of both vessels and the safety of their crews.
He said Chinese Navy ships warned away the Mustin and Beijing had lodged a formal complaint to the United States over the matter. “The aircraft carrier is no ‘homebody’. It will routinely train in seas further from its shore.”
Biden has maintained a tough-on-China stance inherited from the Trump administration. That has included more visible support for Taiwan, angering China, which deems the island part of its territory and sees Washington as giving succour to Taiwanese seeking independence, a red line for Beijing.
Citing a $715 billion U.S. defense budget request which the Biden administration has said will be used primarily to meet the challenge of China, Wu said some U.S. officials suffer from “persecutory delusion”. He said “their hype” about an alleged China threat could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Raising the stakes, China’s Navy said for the first time in early April that carrier drills near Taiwan would become routine. Another U.S. warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait two days after China’s announcement.
A senior U.S. administration official said in mid-April that regardless of who Beijing’s incursions near Taiwan were aimed at, their effect was direct “intimidation and coercion” of Taipei.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Washington;Editing by Mark Heinrich)