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Pentagon: China used coercive force to enforce maritime claims

FILE - In this Friday, April 21, 2017, file photo, an airstrip, structures and buildings on China's man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane of the Philippine Air Force. Beijing says it is "firmly opposed" to a Pentagon report on the Chinese military that highlighted China's construction of military facilities on made-made islands in the South China Sea and speculated that Beijing would likely build more military bases overseas. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines — Beijing has used its growing power to assert its sovereignty claims over features in the East and South China Seas, the US Department of Defense said in its 2017 China Military Power Report.

"China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict," the report read.

The Pentagon reported that for the past year, China continued construction of its military outposts in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea, part of which the Philippines claims as the West Philippine Sea.

China can now deploy military asserts to the Spratly Islands as it is nearly finished with the construction of infrastructures on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross Reefs.

READ: China can now deploy military assets to South China Sea

The report also noted that Beijing was able to land civilian aircraft on its airfields on the "Big Three" artificial islands.

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The Pentagon took note of the July 2016 of an arbitral tribunal ruling which invalidated China's nine-dash line claim in the disputed waters, which Beijing rejected.

"Among other things, the tribunal ruled that China’s 'nine-dash line' cannot represent a lawful maritime claim to the extent that any of the claims it reflects would exceed the limits of China’s maritime entitlements under the Convention," the Pentagon said.

The report added that the United Nations-backed tribunal did not rule on sovereignty claims to land features which is an issue outside the scope of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte did not attempt to advance the Philippines' position based on the ruling, easing tensions between Beijing and Manila.

"China publicly welcomed improved relations with the Philippines, signing $24 billion in potential economic agreements and pledging to settle territorial disputes through dialogue, and it also characterized President Duterte’s approach towards China as contrasting with that of his predecessor, former Philippine President Benigno Aquino III," the report read.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused China of using its economic power to "buy its way out" of problems including the South China Sea dispute.

In a joint statement after the Australia-US Ministerial Consultations in Sydney, Tillerson and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called for the demilitarization of disputed features in the South China Sea.

RELATED: China hits Tillerson's remarks on evading South China Sea issue

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