Pentagon: Beijing strengthening military grip on South China Sea islands

China has termed the assessment "irresponsible".

Speaking with reporters, Hua refused to comment on the potential future overseas bases, but said China is a force for safeguarding peace in Asia and "friendly cooperation [between China and Pakistan] does not target any third party".

In order to expand its military capabilities across the world, China is likely on way to establish overseas military bases "in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan" to protect its interest abroad, a Pentagon report said.

China's initiative, along with its regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, reflect the global power's growing influence and expanding worldwide economic interests.

"China continues to exercise low-intensity coercion to advance its claims in the East and South China Seas", the report said, adding that Beijing's tactic involves the use of "timed progression of incremental but intensifying steps to attempt to increase effective control over disputed areas and avoid escalation to military conflict".

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Djibouti's position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fuelled worries in India that it would become another of China's "string of pearls" strategy of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Outside of Washington, the possibility of setting up shop in Pakistan is likely to irk New Dehli as well.

China has cited anti-piracy patrolling as one of the reasons for developing what it calls a naval logistics center in Djibouti.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis recently criticized China's land reclamation activities in the disputed Spratly Islands, describing the activities as a demonstration of "China's disregard for worldwide law" and its "contempt for other nations' interests".

The Pentagon highlighted in its report that China's expanding worldwide economic interests are increasing demands for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to operate in more distant maritime environments to protect Chinese citizens, investments, and critical sea lines of communication.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, despite partial counter-claims from Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. "Sub-Saharan Africa was China's second largest regional arms market", the report added.

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"China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems, at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands", the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative reported in December previous year.

Three regiments of fighter aircraft can be housed in the facilities. "It is a legitimate right of a sovereign state", Hua said, without mentioning the islands directly.

China follows the path of peaceful development and its defense expenditures are "open and transparent", it said in a statement.

"Tensions remain with India along the shared 4,057-km border over Arunachal Pradesh, which China asserts is part of Tibet and therefore part of China, and over the Aksai Chin region at the western end of the Tibetan Plateau, despite growing China-India political and economic relations".

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