China said Friday it would not stand for violations of its territorial waters in the name of freedom of navigation, as the United States considers sailing warships close to China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.

A US defense official told Reuters the United States was mulling sending ships within the next two weeks to waters inside the 12-nautical-mile zones that China claims as territory around islands it has built in the Spratly chain.

China claims most of the South China Sea, though Washington has signaled it does not recognize Beijing’s territorial claims and that the US navy will continue to operate wherever international law allows.

“We will never allow any country to violate China’s territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly Islands, in the name of protecting freedom of navigation and overflight,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing.

“We urge the related parties not to take any provocative actions, and genuinely take a responsible stance on regional peace and stability,” Hua said in response to a question about possible US patrols.

In an aggressive speech directed against China, US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Scott Swift signalled Tuesday that Washington intended to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea under the pretext of “freedom of the seas.”

“Some nations in this region,” he declared, “continue to impose superfluous warnings and restrictions on freedom of the seas in their exclusive economic zones and claim territorial water rights that are inconsistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This trend is particularly egregious in contested waters,” Swift said.

A Foreign Policy article last week entitled, ‘In South China Sea, a tougher US stance,’  reported that the US was “poised to send naval ships and aircraft to the South China Sea in a challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims to its rapidly-built artificial islands.”

“A final decision has not been made,” the article stated. “But the Obama administration is heavily leaning toward using a show of military might … The timing and details of the patrols … are still being worked out, Obama administration and Pentagon officials said.”

A Defence Department official told Foreign Policy: “It’s not a question of if, but when.”

“The move toward a somewhat more muscular stance follows talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama in Washington last month, which fell far short of a breakthrough over how territorial disputes should be settled in the strategic South China Sea,” Foreign Policy said.

Xi said at the time China had no intention to militarize the islands, but Washington analysts and US officials say China has already begun creating military facilities, and the only question is how much military hardware it will install.

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