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May 28, 6:25 AM EDT

China defends South China Sea island development


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BEIJING (AP) -- Responding to sharply-worded comments from the U.S. defense secretary, China on Thursday defended its building of artificial islands in the South China Sea and accused Washington of stirring up trouble in the economically vital region.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said no outside actors have the right to dictate to China in an area it claims as its sovereign territory.

She said the U.S. was committing "provocations and instigations" that threaten stability - a reference to Washington's refusal to recognize Chinese sovereignty over the newly built dry land.

"China has its own judgment, and no others are entitled the rights to demand China how to act," Hua told reporters. She added that China was acting appropriately as a "big power."

She said the status quo of the South China Sea is generally stable, "but some countries keep on make provocations out of their selfish purposes, willfully challenging China's territorial integrity and maritime rights."

Hua's remarks came a day after Defense Secretary Ash Carter called for an "immediate and lasting halt" to all land reclamation projects by any Pacific nations.

Carter also rejected China's formal complaint over a U.S. surveillance plane's flight last week over a Chinese-controlled island in the disputed Spratly group, saying the U.S. would "fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows."

Frictions over China's island building project are expected to overshadow this weekend's annual Shangri-la Dialogue defense forum in Singapore, which Carter is attending alongside Sun Jianguo, China's vice chief of general staff, and other military leaders. Unlike last year, when Chinese representatives appeared to be blindsided by criticism, they seem more likely to respond this year.

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