China is not happy about a new Pentagon report, and has condemned it as a deliberate distortion that exaggerates Chinese military activity and their ramped up activities in the hotly contested South China Sea.
In its annual report to Congress on Chinese military activity, released Friday, the US Department of Defense said that China's "investments in military and weaponry operations continue on a path to increase its power projection."
Abraham M. Denmark, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, said in a Pentagon statement that "China continues to focus on preparing for potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait," referring to a strait in the highly contentious South China Sea which separates the island of Taiwan from the Asian mainland. "Additional missions such as contingencies in the East and South China seas and on the Korean Peninsula are increasingly important to the [People's Liberation Army]."
"This report documents the kind of military that China is building," Denmark said. "It lets the facts speak for themselves."
Denmark said that China's official military budget ballooned between 2006 and 2015 — growing on average about 9.8 percent each year in inflation adjusted terms, noting that the disclosed budget omits a number of important spending categories such as research and development.
China's Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun expressed "strong dissatisfaction" and "firm opposition" to the Pentagon report, saying it had "severely damaged" mutual trust.
The report "hyped up" China's military threat and lack of transparency, "deliberately distorted" Chinese defense policies and "unfairly" depicted Chinese activities in the East and South China seas, Yang was quoted as saying.
"China follows a national defense policy that is defensive in nature," Yang said, adding that the country's military build-up and reforms are aimed at maintaining sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and guaranteeing China's peaceful development.
It is the United States that has always been suspicious and flexing its military muscle by frequently sending military aircraft and warships to the region, Yang said.
Despite its calls for freedom of navigation and restraint for peace, the US has pushed forward militarization of the South China Sea with an "intention to exert hegemony," Yang added.
The Pentagon report said the planned addition of military infrastructure would give China long-term "civil-military bases" in the contested waters. It estimated that China's reclamation work had added more than 3,200 acres of land on seven features it occupied in the Spratly Islands in the space of two years. The Spratly Islands are a disputed archipelago which lies off the coast of Malaysia and the Philippines.
The report said China had completed its major reclamation efforts in October, switching focus to infrastructure development, including three 9,800 foot-long airstrips that can accommodate advanced fighter jets.
Yang, the spokesman, defended the construction, saying it serves mostly civilian purposes and helps fulfill China's international responsibilities and obligations by providing more public goods.
The Pentagon report comes at a time of heightened tension over maritime territories claimed by China and disputed by several Asian nations. Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased US naval patrols and exercises in Asia.
Last week, China scrambled fighter jets on Tuesday as a US Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea, a patrol China denounced as an illegal threat to peace which only went to show its defense installations in the area were necessary
The US contends that those patrols are intended to emphasize that the waters of the South China Sea are international, and that all countries are entitled to freedom of navigation.
The US report also dredged up old grievances against China's government and military for cyber attacks against US. government computer systems — a charge Beijing denies. The Pentagon said that attacks in 2015 appeared focused on intelligence collection.
China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei hold sometimes conflicting claims over the waters. Countries seek control over the South China Sea because of its rich fishing grounds and the estimated $5 trillion of trade that passes through it each year.
In addition to fishing, the areas surrounding the uninhabited and disputed island archipelagos are believed to be rich in minerals, but until now have been largely unexplored.
The question of which nations have rightful claim to the South China Sea is currently under consideration by an international court in The Hague. The matter was brought before the international court by the Philippines. Beijing has vowed to ignore the ruling, which is expected later this month or in early June.
Reuters contributed to this report