A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was cited by NBC News as claiming on Friday that according to initial information, the Chinese military appeared to have tested multiple anti-ship ballistic missiles in the disputed South China Sea last weekend.
The official added that a detailed analysis was under way.
The US Defense Department, denouncing the recent Chinese move in the disputed South China Sea as “disturbing”, had earlier accused Beijing of breaching a pledge not to militarize the disputed waterway. “The relevant reports do not accord with the facts,” China’s Defense Ministry said in a brief statement responding to the US accusations on Friday. The government in Beijing also announced last week that the military would be carrying out drills between the Spratly and Paracel Islands from Saturday until Wednesday, warning other shipping not to enter the designated area.
The South China Sea has long been a source of tension between Beijing and Washington, which regularly dispatches its warships and warplanes to the waters as part of what it describes as “freedom of navigation” patrols.
Beijing has constantly warned the US against its military activities in the sea, saying that potential close military encounters by air and naval forces of the two countries in the region could easily trigger miscalculation or even accidents at sea or in air. China has also urged the US on numerous occasions to stop meddling in Beijing’s territorial disputes with its neighbors.
Over the past few years, Beijing has constructed several artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, a move that Washington has denounced as a land reclamation project. Washington also accuses Beijing of militarization of the South China Sea by building military installations on that islands and reefs.
China, however, says it is entitled to take defensive measures for its sovereign territory in the South China Sea and that such an action is normal. It rejects US claims that Beijing seeks to limit freedom of navigation in international maritime routes.