The U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander has warned of a possible arms race in the disputed South China Sea which could engulf the region, as nations become increasingly tempted to use military force to settle territorial spats instead of international law.
Commander Admiral Scott Swift urged nations, like China, to seek arbitration to settle maritime disputes.
"My concern is that after many decades of peace and prosperity, we may be seeing the leading edge of a return of "might makes it right" to the region," Swift said on Monday in a speech in Hawaii, according to a copy seen by Reuters.
"Claimants and non-claimants alike are transferring larger shares of national wealth to develop more capable naval forces beyond what is needed merely for self defense," Swift said.
Asked about Swift's comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "Certain countries are exaggerating tensions in the South China Sea region, which is in reality to create confusion and meddle in the South China Sea. China is resolutely opposed to this."
China's Defense Ministry said certain countries were conducting "a big show of force" in the South China Sea.
"At the same time, (they are) wantonly expressing remarks to create tensions, in an attempt to sow confusion and muddy the waters," the ministry said in a faxed statement to Reuters.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade ships every year, a fifth of it heading to and from U.S. ports.