China responded on Thursday to criticism from US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, defending its activity in the South China Sea, while calling out what it says is US hypocrisy.

“Hyping up militarization in the South China Sea by some people in the US is quite ridiculous, just like a thief crying ‘stop thief,’” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a daily press briefing.

“China is not the first country or the one deploying the largest amount of weapons in the South China Sea, nor is it the most militarily active country in the region,” Hua said. “So who is pushing ‘militarization’ in the South China Sea? The answer is quite clear.”

Hua’s comments are part of a rhetorical back-and-forth this week, which began when China’s Foreign Ministry urged the US on Sunday to cease freedom of navigation operations (FONOP) near Chinese military-occupied islands in the region. One such operation had been carried out earlier on Sunday when two US warships sailed near the Paracel Islands.

On Tuesday, speaking to reporters, Mattis said the US had every intention of continuing a “very steady drumbeat” of FONOPs, after criticizing China’s “opaque” behavior in the South China Sea.

“We maintain a very transparent military activity out in the Pacific. We don’t hide it from anyone,” he said after reminding reporters that Chinese President Xi Jinping had made a promise during a state visit to Washington that China would not militarize the South China Sea.

“We announce it in public-affairs statements,” Mattis stressed, adding “when [the Chinese] do things that are opaque to the rest of us, then we cannot cooperate in areas we could otherwise cooperate in.”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua said in her comments on Thursday that the US should abandon what she referred to as meaningless hype and stick to behavior conducive to mutual trust.

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