WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- The head of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Command told Congress this week that China's rapid militarization of the South China Sea threatens the freedom of navigation that is necessary to global commerce.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Harry Harris said China has rapidly set up military facilities on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the Navy Times reported.
"In my opinion China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea... You'd have to believe in a flat earth to believe otherwise," Harris told the committee chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
To date, China has nearly completed land reclamation at seven sites in the South China Sea, and has finished work on runways, infrastructure and man-made bases, Harris said.
A recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies stated China could also be constructing a high-frequency radar on the islands.
Harris said that Chinese coercion, artificial island construction, and militarization in the South China Sea threaten the "most fundamental aspect of global prosperity -- freedom of navigation."
Harris went on to say that North Korea continues to pose a threat to East Asia with its weapons development, and that the threat requires U.S. military forces to "maintain a high level of readiness to respond rapidly to the crisis."
Commander of U.S. Forces Korea Curtis Scaparrotti, also at the hearing, told senators that the United States and South Korea are strengthening solidarity in the face of Pyongyang's provocations and stand to respond immediately, Yonhap reported.
Kyodo News reported Harris said during the hearing that North Korea is poised to launch another ballistic missile in a test that could defy international sanctions, and that Pyongyang has the capacity to send missiles in Japan's direction. North Korea has more than 100,000 rockets aimed at Seoul, he said.
Harris said the U.S. Navy must invest in next-generation anti-surface missiles to challenge regional rivals.