China urges countries outside of the South China Sea region to stop stirring threats of war and tension in the region, the Defense Ministry said on Thursday.
Ren Guoqiang, 47, who debuted as the ministry's spokesman at its first news conference of the year, said China was monitoring the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group, which entered the South China Sea on Saturday.
It was the first patrol by a U.S. carrier in the region since US President Donald Trump took office.
"We hope the U.S. can sincerely respect the sovereignty and security interests of countries in the region, as well as the efforts they have made toward regional peace and stability," Ren said. "We will also respect other nations' freedom of passage and flight through the region so long as they adhere to international law."
The situation in the South China Sea is becoming peaceful and stable, Ren said. "Countries outside of the region shouldn't purposefully stir threats of war or tension, but should inject positive energy into this good development."
As for China-U.S. ties, "a healthy Sino-U.S. military relation adheres to the basic interests of the two nations' people, as well as being beneficial for peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and the world," he said. "It needs China and the US to jointly maintain it. We hope both sides can work together, strengthen communication, avoid misunderstandings and push forward military relations on the right track."
Liang Fang, a professor at National Defense University of the People's Liberation Army, said China should "calmly observe and respond carefully" to the situation.
"The U.S. is reinstating its military presence in the region as a bargaining chip with China," she said.
"The U.S. will continue its Asian rebalancing effort, and China has to be ready for anything."
Teng Jianqun, a senior U.S. studies researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, said the U.S. has to accept the fact that the balance of power is shifting in the region.
"The U.S. flexing its muscles doesn't bring peace. It only makes the situation even more complicated, especially when China and ASEAN countries are on the verge of signing a code of conduct for the South China Sea," he said.
At Thursday's news conference, Ren also denied a media report that China had sent troops to the border area adjacent to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea after the reported death of Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un.
"The report is a complete fabrication," he said.