China demanded the United States "dispel obstacles" to improving military ties and stop slandering it, amid growing tensions over trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and U.S. President Donald Trump's claims of China meddling in the upcoming U.S. election.

US-China tensions intensify after election meddling claim

Trump on Wednesday accused China of seeking to interfere in the Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections, saying that Beijing did not want him or his Republican Party to do well because of his pugnacious stance on trade.

 The two countries are already embroiled in an acrimonious trade war and have continued to butt heads over a list of sensitive issues including the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan, armed by Washington but claimed by Beijing.

 On Saturday, China summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing and postponed joint military talks to protest Washington's decision to sanction a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.

 China on Thursday labeled a recent mission by nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bombers over the disputed South China Sea as "provocative," and said the U.S. was solely responsible for a recent downturn in relations between their militaries.

 Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang also reiterated at a monthly briefing China's objections to a recent U.S. arms sale to Taiwan and the imposition of U.S. sanctions over China's purchase of Russian defense equipment.

 "As for the provocative action taken by the U.S. military aircraft, we are firmly against it and we will take all necessary means to safeguard our rights and interests," Ren said.

 Asked at the Pentagon on Wednesday about the bomber flights, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he wasn't concerned they might raise tensions with Beijing.

 "That just goes on. If it was 20 years ago and had they not militarized those features there it would have been just another bomber on its way to Diego Garcia or wherever," Mattis said, according to a Pentagon transcript, referring to a key U.S. base in the Indian Ocean, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

 "So there's nothing out of the ordinary about it," Mattis said. Two B-52s flew over the strategic waterway, largely claimed by China, earlier this week in what the Pentagon called a routine mission.

Separately, two B-52s also flew this week over the East China Sea, where China has declared an air defense identification zone and claims uninhabited islands controlled by Japan.

 China this week demanded the U.S. cancel a $330 million sale of spare parts and related support for Taiwan's U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets and other military aircraft, warning of "severe damage" to bilateral relations and mutual cooperation if Washington fails to comply.

 The arms sale coincides with a U.S. decision to issue a visa ban and assets freeze on China's Equipment Development Department and its director, Li Shangfu, over the purchase from Russia of Su-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment this year. 

China's purchase of the weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia's main arms exporter, violated a 2017 law intended to punish the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in U.S. elections and other activities.

 In response, China demanded the sanctions be revoked, summoned the American ambassador and defense attaché to deliver a protest, and recalled its navy commander from a U.S. trip.

 China also turned down a request for an October port call in Hong Kong by the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.

 China last denied such a visit in 2016 amid a spike in tensions between the countries over the South China Sea.

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