BEIJING/WASHINGTON China's South China Sea military deployments are no different from U.S. deployments on Hawaii, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday, striking a combative tone ahead of a visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the United States this week.
The United States last week accused China of raising tensions in the South China Sea by its apparent deployment of surface-to-air missiles on a disputed island, a move China has neither confirmed nor denied.
Asked whether the South China Sea, and the missiles, would come up when Wang is in the United States to meet Secretary of State John Kerry, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Washington should not use the issue of military facilities on the islands as a "pretext to make a fuss".
"The U.S. is not involved in the South China Sea dispute, and this is not and should not become a problem between China and the United States," Hua told a daily news briefing.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States would "press China to deescalate and stop its militarization" in the South China Sea.
Toner said China's "militarization activity" only escalated tensions, and added: "There needs to be a diplomatic mechanism in place that allows these territorial claims to be settled in a peaceful way."
Wang is due to meet Kerry on Tuesday. Their talks will also include the international response to North Korea's recent nuclear test and rocket launch, cyber security and climate change, Toner told a regular news briefing.
China hopes the U.S. abides by its promises not to take sides in the dispute and stop "hyping up" the issue and tensions, especially over China's "limited" military positions there, she said.
"China's deploying necessary, limited defensive facilities on its own territory is not substantively different from the United States defending Hawaii," Hua added.
U.S. ships and aircraft carrying out frequent, close-in patrols and surveillance in recent years is what has increased regional tensions, she said.
"It's this that is the biggest cause of the militarization of the South China Sea. We hope that the United States does not confuse right and wrong on this issue or practise double standards."
AUSTRALIA OPERATIONS URGED
On Monday, a senior U.S. naval officer was reported as saying Australia and other countries should follow the U.S. lead and conduct "freedom-of-navigation" naval operations within 12 nautical miles (18 km) of contested islands in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion in global trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
Beijing has rattled nerves with construction and reclamation activities on the islands it occupies, though it says these moves are mostly for civilian purposes.
The state-owned China Southern Power Grid Company will set up a power grid management station in what China calls Sansha City, located on Woody Island in the Paracels, which will be able to access microgrids in 16 other islands, according to China's top regulator of state-owned assets.
In the long term, the station will be able to remotely manage power for many islands there, the statement added, without specifying which islands it was referring to.
Wang is scheduled to be in the United States from Tuesday until Thursday.
Hua said the minister is also expected to discuss North Korea, and she repeated China's opposition to the possible U.S. deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defence system following North Korea's recent rocket launch.
(Reporting Ben Blanchard and Megha Rajagopalan in Beijing and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Richard Borsuk)