BEIJING (AP) — China’s foreign minister is dismissing claims that the country is exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to expand its footprint in the South China Sea, labeling such accusations as “sheer nonsense.”
State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters at a news conference on Sunday that China was cooperating closely on anti-virus efforts with Southeast Asian countries, several of whom have overlapping territorial claims with China in the strategically vital waterway.
While China has long been stepping up its presence in the region, Wang said other countries, implying the United States and its allies, have been creating instability with military flights and sea patrols.
“Their ill-intentioned and despicable moves are meant to sow discord between China and (Southeast Asian countries) and undermine the hard-won stability in the region,” Wang said.
China says it will increase its defense spending by 6.6% in 2020, despite a major downturn in the country’s economic growth due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The increase is the lowest in years, but will still allow China to expand its ability to enforce its territorial claims in the South China Sea and grow its military presence in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Another key priority is maintaining a credible threat against Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy China considers its own territory to be brought under its control by military force if necessary.
Double-digit percentage increases of just a few years ago that have given China the second biggest defense budget in the world behind the U.S. Spending this year will total 1.3 trillion yuan ($180 billion), according to the website of the National People’s Congress, the ceremonial parliament that opened its annual session Friday.