Amid a call from U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter for China to cease building land reclamation immediately, Beijing has begun transferring weapons onto its artificial islands.
As late as Wednesday, a Chinese official insisted in an interview with China Daily and the Xinhua News Agency that construction activity is primarily directed at fulfilling international obligations. Since the South China Sea is a busy shipping route, China wants to provide additional facilities for maritime search and rescue and ecological preservation.
The Australians aren’t convinced.
“It is legitimate to ask the purpose of the land reclamation – tourism appears unlikely,” said Australia’s Secretary of Defense Dennis Richardson, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
Like the United States, Australia is considering sending aircraft and ships near the artificial islands to vigorously exercise freedom of navigation. Australia is officially agnostic on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, but opposes militarization.
Carter gave unusually direct remarks in Hawaii Wednesday, demanding an “immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant.” He also added that the United States is interested in a peaceful resolution and will continue to “fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world.” The U.S. recently exercised this right by deploying the P8-A Poseidon aircraft to the region, only to be met by a transmission from the Chinese Navy, telling the U.S. to “go away.” (RELATED: China Warns US Eight Times Not To Fly Over Artificial Islands In South China Sea)
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying complained that Carter’s speech inordinately focused on China to the exclusion of other countries also engaged in construction efforts and jostling over rights to the South China Sea.
She maintained that China will not accept outside direction and is acting in accordance with its status as a “big power.”
Chunying did not provide the names of other countries, but according to The Wall Street Journal, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines have spurred reclamation efforts in areas under their control.
The State Department has repeatedly stated that building more artificial islands will not strengthen China’s claims of sovereignty to approximately 90 percent of the South China Sea. Nevertheless, China continues to build. According to estimates, Beijing has created 2,000 new acres of land since 2014.
A conference this weekend in Singapore threatens to escalate the situation, as both China and the U.S. will gather to compete for support from other states in the region.
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