Ministry of Defense spokesman Wu Qian

China's Ministry of Defense spokesman Wu Qian
Chinese defense officials on Monday warned their U.S. counterparts against "flexing muscles" in the disputed South China Sea after a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, according to The Associated Press.

Ministry of Defense spokesman Wu Qian said the disputed area was one of several topics Esper and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe discussed earlier in the day.

"We agreed to keep talking and engaging frequently," Esper told reporters after the meeting, according to the AP. "We continue to make progress on any number of issues."

"The Chinese side also urges the U.S. side to stop flexing muscles in the South China Sea and do not provoke and escalate tensions in the South China Sea," Wu said through a Chinese interpreter, clarifying that the U.S. should "stop intervening in the South China Sea and stop military provocations."

China has long claimed the sea as sovereign territory despite overlapping claims by other governments in the region, and the U.S. has sailed Navy ships through parts of the sea China considers restricted, according to the AP.

Jonathan Hoffman, a spokesman for Esper, said that during the meeting the U.S. defense chief "pointedly reiterated that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows — and we will encourage and protect the rights of other sovereign nations to do the same."

Reporters also asked Wu about China's view on ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong, to which he responded "ending violence and restoring order is the most pressing task we have in Hong Kong," according to the AP.