China's foreign minister took a hard line on Tuesday on the country's claims to virtually all the South China Sea, saying Beijing will not permit other nations to infringe on what it considers its sovereign rights in the strategically vital area.

Wang Yi, speaking to reporters at an annual news conference in Beijing, said another nation's claim to freedom of navigation in the region didn't give it the right to do whatever it wants - an apparent reference to the United States, which has sent naval ships past reefs where China has engaged in island-building.

"The South China Sea has been subject to colonial invasion and illegal occupation and now some people are trying to stir up waves, while some others are showing off forces," Wang said.

"However, like the tide that comes and goes, none of these attempts will have any impact. History will prove who is merely the guest and who is the real host."

 One Minute South China Sea

Wang sought to deflect allegations that China is militarising the region by building military facilities on the artificial islands. He said China's development there was defensive and that other nations were being militaristic - not China.

China has conducted a massive programme of land reclamation in the South China Sea over the past two years, piling sand  on top of reefs then adding airstrips and military facilities.

When asked whether China would allow foreign journalists to visit those islands, Wang stressed that they were also intended for civilian uses and that once they are completed, foreign journalists would be invited.

Beijing claims nearly all of the South China Sea, including small islands that are hundreds of kilometres from its southern coast.

Four countries in Southeast Asia have unresolved territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea, which has important shipping lanes and is a potential source of oil and other natural resources.

In January, a US warship sailed into the area of sea containing the Paracel Islands group.

Officials in the US and Taiwan last month accused China of deploying an advanced surface-to-air missile system on one of the disputed islands. 

Wang responded by saying news reports were being exaggerated by Western media outlets.

 China accused of deploying missiles over contested island

Source: AP