BEIJING, Jan 9 (Reuters) - The United States’ expanded military presence in Asia is based on a miscalculation of Beijing’s intent to modernise its military defences, China said on Monday, taking a tempered stance in its first official response to Washington’s plan.
The United States unveiled a defence strategy last week to boost capacity in Asia, an attempt to counter China’s growing ability to check U.S. power in the region, that comes with a pledged reduction in the overall size of U.S. forces.
“The accusation targeting China in the document has no basis, and is fundamentally unrealistic,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said at a regular news conference, in response to a question from state media about whether China poses a threat to U.S. security.
“China adheres to the path of peaceful development, an independent and peaceful foreign policy and a defensive national defence policy,” Liu added.
“The modernisation and development of our national defence forces suit China’s development and objective security needs. It is an active factor of promoting peace and stability in the region and does not present a threat to any country.”
China’s responses to the United States’ push to shore up its security presence in Asia have been restrained since last year, with Beijing policy-makers eager to avoid diplomatic fireworks with an impending political succession preoccupying the ruling Communist Party.
Still, there is growing concern in the United States and Asia about China’s military developments in recent years.
China has been expanding its naval might, with submarines and a maiden aircraft carrier, and has also increased its missile and surveillance capabilities, extending its offensive reach in the region and unnerving its neighbours.
Beijing, however, is concerned that Washington’s new defence posture, as it turns away from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is aimed at encircling it and could hobble its growing power.
Under the new strategy, the United States will maintain its large bases in Japan and South Korea, while deploying U.S. Marines, navy ships and aircraft to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territories.
The U.S. Navy has also said it will station several new coastal combat ships in Singapore and perhaps in the Philippines.
The disputed ownership of oil-rich reefs and islands in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion dollars in trade sails annually, is one of the biggest security threats in Asia.
China is seen as increasingly assertive on the high seas, with several incidents in the past year in the South China Sea, waters claimed wholly or in part by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei. (Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Ken Wills and Paul Tait)