A top Chinese official asserted that China has the right to build on the many disputed islands and reefs of the South China Sea. The declaration comes amid preparations for an upcoming ASEAN conference in Burma, where China’s maritime aggression is expected to be the prime issue. Reuters reports:
Manila has accused China of carrying out reclamation work on at least three shoals in the Spratly Islands, where most of the overlapping claims lie, especially between China and the Philippines.Yi Xianliang, deputy head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Boundary and Ocean Affairs Departments, told reporters that China had every right to build on its islands as a way of improving basic living conditions there.“The Spratly Islands are China’s intrinsic territory, and what China does or doesn’t do is up to the Chinese government. Nobody can change the government’s position,” Yi said.
The South China Sea has been somewhat less turbulent since China removed a billion-dollar oil rig from waters disputed by Vietnam. But that probably has more to do with the oncoming monsoon season than with any easing of political tension. Yi’s strong statement is one of many signals that Chinese territorial expansion, and regional resistance to it, will continue to be one of the hottest geopolitical issues of our time.