Wall Street Journal on June 16, 2015, reported that China said it is shifting work on disputed South China Sea islets from the dredging of land to the construction of military and other facilities as it pushes forward with a program that has aggravated tensions with the U.S. and neighbors. Land reclamation in Spratly islands will be completed in the coming days. Excerpts below:
Beijing lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a stretch of resource-rich waters that carries more than half the world’s trade. Its claims overlap with those of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan and the Philippines—several of whom have criticized China’s rapid and extensive construction program in the Spratlys as the latest in a series of aggressive Chinese efforts to assert territorial rights.
According to U.S. estimates, China has expanded artificial reefs in the Spratlys to as much as 2,000 acres of land, up from 500 acres last year. U.S. officials have said that China’s island-building program includes transforming semi-submerged reefs into forward bases with airfields fit for military use, while U.S. surveillance recently detected two motorized artillery pieces on one of the Chinese-controlled artificial islands.
Other claimants to the Spratlys—including Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines—have all expanded the geographical features they control, but not as quickly as China, analysts say.
Washington says it doesn’t take sides in the South China Sea disputes, but that it has an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the area. To this end, the Obama administration is considering ways to challenge the island-building campaign, weighing whether to deploy Navy vessels or aircraft close the islands to signal to China that it can’t close off international waters.
China’s statement came on the final day for Beijing to submit comments to an international arbitration tribunal that is considering the Philippines’ territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague will hold a hearing next month on whether it has jurisdiction in the matter and whether Manila’s claims are admissible for arbitration. The appeal to the court has angered Beijing, which has said it would neither accept nor participate in the process, arguing that the tribunal lacks jurisdiction over the dispute.