The Trump administration’s top Defense official took aim Friday at China’s buildup of military forces and defenses on islands in the disputed South China Sea.
At a press conference in Singapore, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan referred to China’s forces in the region as “overkill,” and “excessive” for patrolling Chinese interests in the region, according to Reuters.
U.S.-China tensions in the South China Sea have been tested in recent weeks as the Trump administration sails warships through the disputed territory to assert the U.S. position that the waterway is internationally recognized as neutral territory. China, though, claims much of the sea as its territorial waters.
A spokesman for the Navy’s Seventh Fleet told Reuters earlier this month that operations in the area were necessary to “challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law.”
Two U.S. warships sailed near the islands in early May as part of one such maneuver, angering Beijing at the time and prompting a statement from China’s government.
“China urges the United States to stop such provocative actions,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in early May.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have flared after the two countries failed to reach an agreement to end their trade war.
The U.S. recently imposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports and has threatened future tariff action if a deal is not reached.