U.S. Blasts Chinese Missile Launches in South China Sea As 'Meant to Intimidate'

The Pentagon has condemned what it called "disturbing" Chinese missile drills in the contested South China Sea, claiming the action was "meant to intimidate" other nations.

U.S. military officials on Tuesday confirmed anonymous tips sent to NBC News that Chinese forces conducted anti-ship ballistic missile drills in the South China Sea this weekend.

Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn said the military "was aware of the Chinese missile launch from the man-made structures in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands," Reuters reported.

"I'm not going to speak on behalf of all the sovereign nations in the region, but I'm sure they agree that the [People's Republic of China's] behavior is contrary to its claim to want to bring peace to the region and obviously actions like this are coercive acts meant to intimidate other [South China Sea] claimants," Eastburn added.

The South China Sea contains rich fishing grounds, vital shipping routes and potential natural resources. China's claims there overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

Beijing has enforced its claims by building a network of military bases on expanded shoals and reefs. China maintains that the facilities are purely defensive in nature, but has also deployed troops, electronic warfare systems and ballistic missiles there. Some are even equipped with 10,000-foot runways for nuclear-capable bombers, hangars to house fighter planes and deepwater piers for warships.

The U.S. regularly sends its warships and aircraft on "freedom of navigation" and overflight operations in the disputed region, designed to keep pressure on Beijing and assert Washington's belief that the area constitutes international waters. China has called such operations inflammatory and a threat to regional peace.

China has not confirmed that it tested anti-ship ballistic missiles this weekend. However, the government previously noted that it would be holding drills between the Spratly and Paracel Islands beginning last weekend and lasting until Wednesday, Reuters explained. Officials warned that other ships should avoid the area designated for the exercises.

Beijing has embarked on a massive investment drive for its armed forces in recent decades, seeking to transform its huge but rudimentary military into a modern, technologically advanced machine capable of force projection and challenging American regional hegemony.

This strategy has seen China become a leading developer of anti-ship ballistic missiles, designed to help its forces offset U.S. naval superiority and target strategically important units like aircraft carriers.

China, US, South China Sea, missiles, test
Chinese military vehicles carrying anti-ship ballistic missiles drive past the Tiananmen Gate during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two on September 3, 2015 in Beijing, China. Andy Wong - Pool/Getty