September 24, 2015 / 10:24 AM / 3 years ago

China to host ASEAN defense ministers amid South China Sea tension

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Thursday it will host defense ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) next month, amid tension between some of its members and China over the disputed South China Sea.

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in this still image from video taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the United States Navy May 21, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout via Reuters

The Oct. 15-16 informal summit will take place in Beijing and China has invited the defense ministers of all 10 members, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a regular monthly news briefing.

Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan will have a “deep exchange of views” with participants, he added, without elaborating.

China has overlapping claims with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

China’s increasingly assertive moves to press its sovereignty claims have rattled its neighbors and aroused concern in the United States, though China says it has no hostile intent.

A U.S. expert said this month, citing satellite photographs, China appeared to be carrying out preparatory work for a third airstrip in contested territory in the South China Sea. ID:nL1N11K26F]

Wu declined to comment when asked whether China was indeed building a third airstrip, repeating the government’s standard line that its construction work in the South China Sea was to satisfy “necessary defense needs”.

China stepped up creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea last year, drawing strong criticism from Washington.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

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