Washington: China's deployment of missiles and radars and its building of runways on reefs in the South China Sea are "changing the operational landscape" there, the head of the US Pacific Command said on Tuesday.
China was "clearly militarising the South China (Sea)," Admiral Harry Harris told the US Senate Armed Services Committee, adding: "You'd have to believe in a flat earth to think otherwise."
Speaking ahead of a meeting in Washington between China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State John Kerry, Harris said China was continuing to escalate the situation in the South China Sea with new deployments.
"I think China's SSMs - surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island...Its new radars on Cuarteron Reef...The 10,000-foot runway on Subi Reef. and on Fiery Cross Reef and other places; these are actions that are changing in my opinion the operational landscape in the South China Sea," he said.
Responding to a question, Harris said Chinese DF-21 and DF-26 anti-ship missiles could pose a threat to US aircraft carriers, but said the vessels were resilient and that the United States had "the capability to do what has to be done if it comes to that."
A U.S. think tank reported on Monday that China may be installing a high-frequency radar system on the Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly Islands that could significantly boost its ability to control the disputed South China Sea.
The Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies cited recent satellite images and also pointed to "probable" radars at Gaven, Hughes and Johnson South Reefs in the Spratlys as well as helipads and possible gun emplacements.
On Thursday, the United States accused China of raising tensions in the area by its apparent deployment of surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island in the Paracel island chain.
China's has also built military-length airstrips on artificial islands in the South China Sea.
On Tuesday, Kerry said in congressional testimony that militarization of facilities in the South China Sea did not help efforts to resolve rival maritime claims and Washington was encouraging peaceful resolution of such disputes.
China's Foreign Ministry said ahead of Wang's visit Beijing's military deployments in the South China Sea were no different from US deployments on Hawaii.
China's Ministry of Defence said on its microblog on Tuesday China had established "necessary defensive facilities" that were "legal and appropriate".
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had every right to build on its own territory and deploy "limited" defensive means there.