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Asia's Game of Thrones
Balancing China’s “Great Wall of Sand”

Chinese and American military relations are cordial at the highest level, but U.S. worries about resurgent Chinese military aggression in Asian waters are rising again. And for good reason. On Monday, China’s PLA Air Force conducted unprecedented bomber drills over the Bashi channel, between Taiwan and the Philippines. Beijing is also raising hackles by continuing its massive land reclamation projects in disputed waters, dredging sand to create artificial islands it can use as bases and ports. The effort has grown so large that the commander of the US Pacific fleet said that China is “creating a great wall of sand.” AP has more:

“China is building artificial land by pumping sand on to live coral reefs — some of them submerged — and paving over them with concrete. China has now created over 4 square kilometers (1.5 square miles) of artificial landmass,” [Admiral Harry Harris Jr.] said.

Harris said the region is known for its beautiful natural islands, but “in sharp contrast, China is creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers over the course of months.” […]

He said the United States continues to urge all claimants to conform to the 2002 China-ASEAN Declaration of Conduct, in which the parties committed to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

“How China proceeds will be a key indicator of whether the region is heading toward confrontation or cooperation,” he said.

Despite speaking softly lately, Beijing is waving a big stick. The continuation of expansionist policies has clearly gotten America’s attention: U.S. officials are pledging to have 60 percent of the navy based in the Pacific Fleet by 2020 and looking to its alliance structure for backup. The U.S. is also considering a regular rotation of warships through Australia, and is looking at closer cooperation with India. And a decision on what closer naval cooperation with Japan will look like is reportedly due at the end of June.

As China gets stronger, the U.S. looks committed to balancing its power in the Pacific.

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