BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top military newspaper warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have fanned risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea.
The commentary in China's Liberation Army Daily falls short of a formal government statement, but marks the strongest high-level comment yet from Beijing about tensions with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships to assert their claims.
On Monday, American and Filipino troops launched two weeks of annual naval drills amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, which have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal.
"Anyone with clear eyes saw long ago that behind these drills is reflected a mentality that will lead the South China Sea issue down a fork in the road towards military confrontation and resolution through armed force," said the commentary in the Chinese paper, which is the chief mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army.
"Through this kind of meddling and intervention, the United States will only stir up the entire South China Sea situation towards increasing chaos, and this will inevitably have a massive impact on regional peace and stability."
Up to now, China has chided the Philippines over the dispute about an uninhabited shoal known in the Philippines as the Panatag Shoal and which China calls Huangyan, about 124 nautical miles off the main Philippine island of Luzon.
China has territorial disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan in the South China Sea, which is could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by important shipping lanes.
Beijing has sought to resolve the disputes one-on-one but there is concern among its neighbors over what some see as its growing assertiveness in staking its claims over the sea and various islands, reefs and shoals.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ron Popeski)