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China returns fire at U.S. as war-of-words escalates

BEIJING --The U.S. Navy is reportedly sailing a carrier strike group in the South China Sea. The USS John C. Stennis is accompanied by several other ships in the disputed waters.

The patrol comes as China announced the smallest increase in military spending in six years at the annual meeting of its ceremonial legislature, the National People's Congress.

Almost 3,000 delegates are gathering in Beijing for the annual meeting of China's nominal, rubber-stamp legislature. It may be a fair-share of pageantry, but it is high profile and carefully choreographed, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane.

In the opaque world of Chinese politics, issues raised at the National People's Congress offer a peek at what China's leaders have in store -- and it gets plenty of coverage.

There is a long line of journalists waiting to get into the press conference. The Chinese government leaves very little up to chance ahead of this press conference, and reporters were asked to submit question topic areas. Then they received an email from the government which said that we should attend the press conference and raise the question about the South China Sea.

Recent satellite images show military installations on China's man-made islands in disputed waters of the South China Sea despite assurances from China's President Xi Jinping that it has no intention to militarize.

Last summer, CBS News hired a small boat to try to see those artificial islands first-hand.

"It looks like a city in the middle of the sea," Doane had observed. The U.S. has been patrolling the area as tensions have escalated.

Despite hundreds of journalists gathered Friday, we had little doubt they'd call on us.

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Fu Ying
CBS News

"China had pledged not to militarize its islands in the South China Sea, so why has China deployed surface-to-air missile batteries, and why is it constructing military-grade airfields on those island?" Doane asked.

"Take a look at the planes and vessels coming in and out of the South China Sea -- they're mostly America's," parliament spokeswoman Fu Ying said in Chinese. "The U.S. deployed its Navy to our region -- isn't that militarization?"

China is pointing its finger right back at America.

It's rare to get to ask a question directly to the government, and we went to four separate meetings just to try to get the chance to ask that question.