WASHINGTON-Vice President Mike Pence will deliver a stinging rebuke to China in a speech scheduled for Thursday in which he will take aim at what he says are Beijing's attempts to influence US elections and global politics.
The Pentagon accused the Chinese navy of using "an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver" when one of its destroyers challenged a US destroyer, the USS Decatur, as it sailed Sunday near one of the disputed islets that China claims in the Spratly archipelago.
The vice president cited a Chinese government document, called "Propaganda and Censorship Notice", which he claimed laid out a strategy aimed at "splitting apart different domestic groups in the United States", much as USA intelligence services have unanimously concluded that Russian Federation did in the 2016 elections.
He will also argue that Chinese officials have tried to influence business leaders to condemn United States trade actions, "leveraging their desire to maintain their operations in China".
The United States has for years routinely patrolled the seas as part of what it calls "freedom of navigation operations".
The encounter followed a string of other military incidents.
China's defence ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said on Tuesday that China respects and protects other countries' right to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, but "resolutely opposes" other countries' moves to challenge China's sovereignty and security in the name of "freedom of navigation".
Days earlier, China nixed a planned port visit of a USA warship to Hong Kong, and canceled a meeting between the head of the Chinese navy and his American counterpart.
These types of missions demonstrate that the United States does not recognize China's territorial claims to the South China Sea.
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The Chinese defense ministry denounced the flyovers as "provocative" actions.
China's defense and foreign ministries each released statements Tuesday sharply criticizing the United States, though not disputing details of the US accusations involving the Decatur.
"The (Chinese) destroyer conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart the area", said Navy Cmdr.
"Conducting unsafe, close proximity manoeuvres like this does go against the spirit of promoting safety in the interactions between operational forces at sea", Koh said.
Tensions in the region have been elevated for the last few weeks.
Washington last week enacted new tariffs against China covering another $200 billion of its imports.
"Australia has consistently expressed concern over ongoing militarisation of the South China Sea and we continue to urge all claimants to refrain from unilateral actions that would increase tension in the region".