Featured photo by Ritchie B. Tongo (pool photo via AP, File)

WASHINGTON: The US Navy will step up its operations in the South China Sea with “greater complexity”, a top US admiral has warned, drawing sharp rebuke from China which is building military facilities on islands in the hotly disputed area.

“We’ll be doing them more and we’ll be doing them with greater complexity in the future,” Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of the US Pacific Command, told American lawmakers on the growing friction in the South China Sea.

“We’ll fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Harris, who is set to visit India next week, said.

He said China was building military capabilities in the South China Sea leading to escalating tension in the region.

“In my opinion China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea,” Harris, in a hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “You’d have to believe in a flat earth to believe otherwise,” he said.

“China’s intent to militarise the South China Sea is as certain as a traffic jam in DC,” Harris said in reference to congestion on the streets of Washington.

The harsh assessment from the US military’s top commander in the Pacific comes amidst a series of reports of increasing Chinese capabilities on disputed islands in the resource-rich South China Sea.