A China’s land reclamation work on a reef in Spratly Islands, which has faced strong regional and international criticism, is "justified" and will continue, a retired People’s Liberation Army Major General said in an interview with state media.
China is likely to withstand international pressure over Fiery Cross Reef, Major General Luo Yuan said, according to a report in the Global Times, a state-run newspaper.
In the past three months China reclaimed land around the reef, creating an island large enough to enable its first airstrip in the Spratly Islands, IHS Jane’s reported Nov. 20, citing satellite pictures of the area.
Artificial islands could help China anchor its territorial assertions and potentially develop bases near waters that host some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Vietnam says it has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, known in Vietnam as the East Sea.
The U.S. urged China to stop reclaiming land and engage in diplomatic initiatives to encourage all claimants to show restraint, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Pool. In August, China rebuffed efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to secure a freeze on any actions that might provoke tensions in the waters.
China’s construction activities in the islands are to improve working and living conditions of stationed personnel to aid them fulfill their search and rescue obligations, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters today in Beijing. “External forces have no right to make irresponsible remarks,” she said.
Luo told the Global Times that the U.S. was biased because the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have set up military facilities in the Spratly islands.
The Philippine government is seeking to validate the report of China building an airstrip and harbor on Fiery Cross Reef, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters today in Manila. President Benigno Aquino and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have expressed a desire to improve bilateral relations and that can happen while the country seeks to resolve its maritime claims through United Nations arbitration, he said.
Until the reclamation project started, Fiery Cross was underwater, with the only habitable area a concrete platform built and maintained by the PLA Navy, IHS Jane’s said.
The new island is more than 3,000 meters (3,280 yards) long and between 200 and 300 meters wide, IHS Jane’s said, citing satellite images taken between Aug. 8 and Nov. 14. Dredgers are constructing a harbor to the east of the reef that appears to be large enough to receive tankers and naval vessels, it said.
The reclamation work in the Spratly Islands are to support a radar system and intelligence gathering activities, the Asahi Shimbun reported, citing Jin Zhirui of the Chinese Airforce Headquarters speaking at a forum on Nov. 22.
Jin said the unsuccessful search for a Malaysian Airlines plane that went missing in March this year had made China realize it lacked airforce capabilities in the South China Sea and that there was a need for a base of operations there for state security, according to the Asahi Shimbun.
All claimants to the Spratlys except Brunei occupy islands or have built structures on reefs and shoals, IHS Jane’s said.
The reclamation at Fiery Cross is the fourth such project undertaken by China in the Spratlys in the past 12 to 18 months and is “by far” the largest, it said. China has built new islands at Johnson South Reef, Cuarteron Reef and Gaven Reef, though none are large enough to house an airstrip, it said.
“Given its massive military advantage over the other claimants in terms of quantity and quality of material, this facility appears purpose-built to coerce other claimants into relinquishing their claims and possessions,” IHS Jane’s said.
China said in October it had completed an airstrip on Woody Island, part of the Paracel Islands. Vietnam has condemned the construction, demanding that "China respect [our] sovereignty and not repeat such wrongful activities.”
China invaded the Paracel Islands in 1974, shortly after the withdrawal of American naval ships. It waged a brief but bloody naval assault on troops from the then US-backed Republic of Vietnam.