Stops building islands: China Building Islands
Published: June 16, 2015
Stops building islands: China Building Islands, China announced on Tuesday that it would soon halt island-building projects around some reefs and shoals in disputed waters of the South China Sea but that it would continue constructing military and civilian facilities on those outcroppings.
The announcement may have been intended to ease tensions with the United States, which has strongly criticized the building of the islands and has sent surveillance flights close to the sites, to the chagrin of the Chinese military. The construction of facilities, though, would further establish the sites as islands that China could claim as its territory.
In the announcement on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Lu Kang, a spokesman, said that “relevant departments” in China had decided to go forward as planned with completing land reclamation work on some reefs and islands in the Spratly archipelago in the “coming days.”
He added that the sites in the Spratlys, which the Chinese call the Nansha Islands, would be used for “military defense needs” as well as “civilian demands,” including maritime search and rescue efforts, disaster prevention and mitigation, scientific research, meteorological observation, navigational safety measures and fishery services.
“After the land reclamation, we will start the building of facilities to meet relevant functional requirements,” Mr. Lu said.
He also reiterated earlier remarks defending the building of islands, saying that it fell “within the scope of China’s sovereignty,” was not targeting any other country and would not affect freedom of navigation or overflights allowed by international law.
Mr. Lu used the word garrison to describe some of the islands. In April, another Foreign Ministry representative used the same term and said military defense would be one of the uses of the sites.
In recent months, American officials have said that China’s land reclamation at seven sites in the region far outpaces similar efforts by other nations. The United States says China has built 2,000 acres of land around reefs and shoals over the last 18 months. American officials and leaders of Southeast Asian nations began criticizing the moves in early 2014, but that has done little to deter China, which foreign officials say has in fact been accelerating construction.
China, Taiwan and several Southeast Asian nations make territorial claims to the South China Sea. The United States has said it does not take sides in the sovereignty disputes, but it insists that all nations must refrain from interfering with freedom of navigation and from raising tensions.
Vietnam and the Philippines have built on pieces of land, but that has largely consisted of putting up buildings rather than land reclamation. Much of it also took place before 2002, when China and several other claimants to territory signed a nonbinding agreement in which each vowed not to act provocatively.
Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said on Tuesday that China’s announcement “could greatly reduce its strategic conflicts with the United States, at least at this stage.” He added that it could also “generate an amicable atmosphere” before Xi Jinping, the Chinese president and head of the Communist Party, visits the United States in September.
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