CHINA’S LAND RECLAMATION IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA PROVOKES TENSIONS
April 10, 2015
Recent events – including the Vietnamese protest against China’s construction activities in the Nansha/Spratly Islands, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s stern warning against the militarization of territorial disputes, the U.S.-Filipino joint military exercise , U.S. concern about China’s “great wall of sand,” and U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN Nina Hachigian’s environmental concerns about China’s land reclamation – have kept the South China Sea issue in the spotlight.
China is flexing its muscle in the South China Sea by embarking on a dramatic expansion of construction of six artificial islands on disputed reefs, arousing concern over China’s ambition to control most of the South China Sea with a network of island fortresses. Chinese workers are building ports and fuel storage depots as well as possibly two airstrips that experts have said would allow Beijing to project power deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia. When asked if the coming US-Philippine exercise later this month is a response to China’s moves, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter confirmed that Washington and Manila had shared interests in the region.
In addition, while attending a press conference with his Japanese counterpart Gen Nakatani in Tokyo, the first stop of his first trip to Asia, Carter claimed that although the United States “doesn’t take a stand in any of those territorial disputes, it takes a strong stand against militarization of those disputes.”
Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told a naval conference in Australia that China is creating “a great wall of sand” through an unparalleled program of land reclamation in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. The U.S. Navy raised concerns about the possibility of military confrontation in the disputed waters.
In response to rising apprehension, Chinese officials have defended the construction work as necessary and lawful. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said “the construction does not target or affect anyone. And we do not accept criticism from others when we are merely building facilities in our own yard.” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to Vietnamese protests by saying, “China’s normal construction activities on our own islands and in our own waters are lawful, reasonable and justifiable. We hope that relevant party can take a calm view on this.”
At the same time, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to submit bills to parliament in the coming months to ratify the cabinet’s decision last year to allow Japan to exercise its right of collective self-defense. This decision will provoke pushback from its many Asian neighbors, including China who has shown more assertiveness recently.
Both the East and South China Sea issues require the United States and its allies to figure out a peaceful approach to deal with the fast growing Chinese ambition.
For more information on this topic, consult the following sources:
The Washington Post – “U.S. Navy alarmed at Beijing’s ‘Great Wall of sand’ in South China Sea“
The Wall Street Journal – “U.S. Wary of Possible China Island Fortresses”
The Wall Street Journal – “Vietnam Protests China Construction on Disputed South China Sea Island”
Council on Foreign Relations – “South China Sea Armed Confrontation”
Foreign Policy – “Sand Pebbles: Why Are Superpowers Squabbling Over Rocks?”
The Diplomat – “Will This Plane Let China Control the South China Sea?”
The Diplomat – “Philippines Fires Back at China’s South China Sea Charges”
Business Insider – “Tensions In The South China Sea Explained In 19 Maps”
Voice of America – “Swiss Watches Latest Weapon in Vietnam-China Sea Conflict”
环球网 – “外媒：瑞士公司为越定制手表 称西沙南沙属越南”
新华网 – “美菲澳三国上万兵力将在菲律宾联合军演”
Compiled and edited by Stella Ran Zheng