Top government and military leaders are hosting a senior Chinese general this week, as the communist government is stepping up harsh rhetoric and blaming the United States for new tensions in the South China Sea.
People’s Liberation Army Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the general staff and China’s No. 3 military leader, toured the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego on Tuesday. He was in Washington for meetings Wednesday at the National Defense University and Pentagon as part of a five-day visit.
On the Reagan, Gen. Fang met with Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command who has sought to play down the growing military threat posed by China.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet Gen. Fang Thursday, when the topic of the South China Sea is expected to be a point of contention.
The two generals are scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry called China’s setting up of a large oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands “provocative,” according to a State Department spokeswoman who recounted the exchange between Mr. Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The comment prompted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying to shoot back: “It is the U.S. coming in and making a series of erroneous remarks about the issue in the waters, encouraging certain countries’ threatening and provocative behavior.”
Earlier, Ms. Hua accused the U.S. of making “irresponsible” comments about maritime disputes and urged Washington to “speak and act cautiously.”
Chinese spokesmen and state-run press outlets blamed the U.S. for heightened tensions that have included Chinese patrol boats firing water cannons at Vietnamese boats and threats against Philippines for its arrest last week of 11 Chinese fishermen.
On May 5, the Navy’s 7th Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge encountered two Chinese warships near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, claimed by both the Philippines and China.
A fleet spokesman said a helicopter from the Blue Ridge photographed a Chinese frigate and destroyer near the shoal.
Ms. Hua bristled over a question about the encounter.
“The Chinese side has indisputable sovereignty over the various South China Sea islands, including [Scarborough Shoal], and their adjacent waters,” the spokeswoman said. “Routine patrols by Chinese naval vessels in relevant waters are justifiable, lawful, and absolutely normal. There is no need to make a fuss about that.”
The shoal encounter ended without incident, unlike the Dec. 5 near-collision between the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a Chinese warship in the South China Sea.