Donald Trump’s national security advisor has tried to justify Washington’s air and sea operations in the South China Sea by saying the US has the “freedom” to do so, and dismissing all of Beijing’s objections.

“The US always reserves its right to have freedom of navigation and freedom of aviation,” Robert O’Brien told the Atlantic Council on Friday. “I certainly reject any Chinese claims that flights over the South China Sea … constitute some sort of breach of a norm or a rule.”

He added that, to him, it seems Beijing seeks “to annex a vast swath of the Western Pacific Ocean,” and that its complaints of an illegal US presence stem from China’s unrealistic overextended seas borders.

“We’re seeing a very assertive, a very aggressive China,” the US President’s aide said, referring to China imposing a new national security law in Hong Kong. In O’Brien’s view, China is also currently “bullying” Taiwan and “attempting to bully” India.

The national security advisor was largely speaking in response to Beijing’s warning to the US on Thursday not to carry out “provocative” air and sea operations in the region.

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