WASHINGTON, U.S. - Following a very public thrashing by the U.S. over disputes between the world's two largest economies - China delivered a harsh rebuke.
In its response to the high-level talks in Washington, following which top U.S. diplomats publicly detailed the multiple issues facing the two countries in a joint press conference - Chinese officials did not hold back on their responses.
On Saturday, addressing reporters in Washington, senior Chinese officials rebuked the U.S. over its repeated "provocation" in the disputed South China Sea.
Challenging the disputed waterways
The disputed South China Sea waterways witnesses about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passing back each year.
Considering the international economic importance of the waterways, and backed by its growing financial clout in the Asia Pacific region - China has insisted that it has sovereignty over the mineral-rich waterways.
Beijing imposes its dominance over the entire South China Sea despite competing claims from some smaller neighbours including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
However, China's brutish claims and its aggressive tactics in the South China Sea - involving not only the construction of artificial islands throughout the waterway but also the installation of military equipment on these islands - have angered other powerful nations over the last few years.
For over half a decade now, China has drawn U.S. ire over its construction of artificial landmasses in the vital waterways, and more recently, due to its building of structures that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
China's coercive behaviour in the South China Sea faced further anger after the country landed its H-6K strategic bomber on an outpost in the Paracels, Woody Island for the first time in May this year.
Despite the criticism, China has continued reinforcing and arming its bases in the Paracel Islands and farther south in the Spratly Islands - by deploying missiles and radar equipment.
While China claims its facilities in the waters are for defensive purposes, international experts believe this is part of Beijing's concerted bid to cement de facto control of the South China Sea.
China's tactics have sparked repeated warnings not only by Western powers - especially the U.S. and more recently the U.K. - but also its rivals in the Asia Pacific region, mainly Australia.
While the U.S. administration under the former President Barack Obama repeatedly conducted 'International Freedom of Navigation' operations as a challenge to China's unchallenged claims in the South China Sea - U.S. challenges over the last 12 months have displayed more aggression.
Under the administration of Obama's successor Donald Trump, such exercises have become not only become more frequent but have also featured mightier military power - including powerful U.S. warships - to clarify that Beijing's dominance won't go unchallenged anymore.
Facing a more prominent U.S. challenge, China has been boosting its defences too and has specifically enhanced its naval forces over the last two years under the supremacy of its all-powerful President Xi Jinping.
China's response to U.S. threats and aggressive 'International Freedom of Navigation' operations under the Trump administration are not limited only to a verbal rebuke like the past - but have included menacing counter operations.
However, America's bold and aggressive tactics in the South China Sea along with its ongoing trade war, and increasing closeness and armed support of Taiwan - a territory that China claims - have provoked Beijing to turn more aggressive too.
'Stop the militarization'
This week, after holding the annual U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington, top officials from both the countries addressed the media in a joint press conference.
U.S. officials used the conference to publicly reiterated their warning - urging their Chinese counterparts to halt militarization of the disputed South China Sea.
At the joint press conference, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo targeted China's continued building of military installations on artificial islands and reefs in the South China Sea.
Revealing details of the talks between officials from Beijing and Washington during the critical meeting, Pompeo stressed on Washington's freedom of navigation in Asia Pacific waters.
He told reporters, "We have continued concerns about China's activities and militarization in the South China Sea. We pressed China to live up to its past commitments in this area."
The top U.S. diplomat acknowledged, "The United States and China confront difficult challenges," but pointed out that "cooperation remains essential on many issues."
Pompeo clarified, "The United States is not pursuing a Cold War or containment policy with respect to China. Rather, we want to ensure that China acts responsibly and fairly in support of security and prosperity in each of our two countries."
However, while he cited efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program as a common area of cooperation between the two countries - Pompeo also noted that other critical differences continue.
He noted the bitter trade dispute between the two top economies in the world, along with the issue of U.S. support of self-ruled Taiwan, and China's crackdown on its Muslim minority in Xinjiang as the contentious issues.
Pompeo's strong comments, behind closed doors and before the media drew a scathing response from China on Saturday.
'Our sovereignty threatened'
In response to the increasing high-seas confrontations and the criticism it drew this week, China responded in a blunt tone to the U.S., U.K., Australia and other small Asian nations that have raised similar concerns.
Battling claims of "militarization" of the resource-rich waterways before the global media, two visiting senior Chinese officials seized the opportunity to publicly warn against threats to Beijing's "sovereignty."
At the end of the annual U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington, Chinese Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe pointed out that Beijing was committed to "non-confrontation."
Yang Jiechi, who is the director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Central Commission of the Communist Party, told reporters that the situation in the South China Sea was "treading towards greater stability."
However, Jiechi, who is China's highest-ranking diplomat, also issued a harsh rebuke of Washington's actions of sending warships and military aircraft near Chinese islands and reefs in the disputed waterways.
Claiming that Washington's actions undermine Chinese interests - Jiechi pointed out that China had the right to build "necessary defence facilities" on what it considers its own territory.
He said, "The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine China's sovereignty and security interests. And we urge the United States to play a constructive role for peace and stability in the South China Sea. That will certainly help reduce security risks."
Jiechi further added, "On its own territory, China is undertaking some constructions to build civilian facilities and necessary defence facilities. That is the right of preservations and self-defence that international law has provided for a sovereign state that has nothing to do with militarization. They are legitimate."
However, the top Chinese diplomat's claims of China's "indisputable sovereignty" over the archipelago and its adjacent waters were countered by defiance from top U.S. officials.
Jiechi urged Washington to "stop sending warships and military planes" close to Beijing's manmade islands and refrain from actions that undermine stability in the South China Sea.
U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis responded to Jiechi's claims by maintaining that the U.S. adheres strictly to international law and the international maritime rules of the road.
He said that the U.S. would "continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows," as it was necessary to "preserve access to the South China Sea for itself and others in accordance to international law."
Mattis stressed that the U.S.' commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific is unwavering.
However, Jiechi retorted, "There is no problem of the freedom of navigation and overflight being obstructed, so to use the freedom of navigation and overflight as an excuse to pursue military actions is unjustifiable."
He argued that Beijing is only building certain security facilities in response to possible threats from outside.
The Trade and Taiwan conundrum
The two sides also addressed the two other complicated issues - including the ongoing trade war and Washington's arming of Taiwan - which China considers a wayward province.
Chinese officials said that a trade war between the world's two largest economies would end up hurting both sides.
So far, both the countries have slapped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other's goods - which have jolted global financial markets.
Now, in light of the U.S. President's threat to set tariffs on the remainder of China's $500 billion-plus exports to the United States if the trade dispute cannot be resolved - the top Beijing diplomats called for keeping channels of communication open to resolving an issue that has unsettled global financial markets.
However, officials from China were not as calm about Washington's support of Taiwan.
Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told reporters that Beijing would defend its claim on the island "at any cost."
However, he agreed with Mattis on the need to lower U.S.-China military tensions to avoid unintended clashes.
The Chinese general said that confrontation "will spell disaster to all."
Jiechi said, "A trade war, instead of leading to any solution, will only end up hurting both sides and the global economy. The door to negotiation remains open. And let's not forget how our two sides have successfully navigated through previous rough patches in our economic and trade relations."