China's foreign ministry has called in a senior US diplomat to protest against remarks by the US State Department raising concerns over tensions in the contested South China Sea, further intensifying an already fraught territorial dispute.
In a statement released late on Saturday, China's foreign ministry said assistant foreign minister Zhang Kunsheng summoned the US Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Wang to make "serious representations" about the issue.
The State Department on Friday said it was monitoring the situation in the seas closely, adding that China's establishment of a military garrison for the area runs "counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region".
The South China Sea has become Asia's biggest potential military flashpoint. Beijing's sovereignty claim over the huge area has set it against Vietnam and the Philippines as the three countries race to tap possibly huge oil reserves.
Beijing and Washington are already at odds over numerous matters, including the value of China's currency, Tibet and Taiwan. Zhang said the US statement "disregarded the facts, confused right with wrong, sent a seriously wrong signal and did not help with efforts by relevant parties to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea or the Asia Pacific."
"China expresses its strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition, urges the US side to mend the error of its ways, earnestly respect China's territorial integrity and do more to genuinely benefit stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific," he added.
A separate statement by ministry spokesman Qin Gang repeated that China had absolute sovereignty over the sea and its myriad islands and had every right to formally set up a city to administer the region, which it did last month.