The head of the US Navy warned China that its coastguard and maritime militia would be treated in the same way as the nation’s navy in the South China Sea, the Financial Times reported. China is increasingly relying on non-naval ships to assert its claims in the region, blurring the line between its military and coastguard, which has complicated US efforts in the past few years, according to the report. China considers at least 80 per cent of the South China Sea to be its sovereign territory, a claim disputed by other regional powers. Admiral John Richardson told the newspaper that he had “made it very clear that the US Navy will not be coerced and will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world”. Richardson highlighted the apparent policy shift to Vice-Admiral Shen Jinlong, China’s naval commander, during his trip to the country in January. Beijing sends coastguard vessels after Philippine warship runs aground in South China Sea China’s coastguard fleet of large patrol ships has more than doubled to more than 130 in the past nine years, making it the largest coastguard force in the world. The maritime militia, an armed reserve force of civilians and fishing boats, was the only one of its kind sanctioned by a government in the world, the Pentagon said its annual report on the Chinese military. Under the Obama administration, the rhetoric from the US was not generally belligerent, but the two countries have clashed in the past year. Earlier this month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he hoped “non-regional forces don’t stir up troubles in the South China Sea”, after the USS Wasp warship joined drills near the Scarborough Shoal.