Following up on earlier promises, China announced that it’s completed some of its highly contentious land reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands, which have netted Beijing an estimated 1500 acres of land in the disputed area of the South China Sea in the last year alone. Reuters reports:
China stepped up its creation of artificial islands last year, alarming several countries in Asia and drawing criticism from Washington. The United States, which has called for a halt in China’s island building, said earlier this month that it was concerned about Beijing’s plans for more construction work, including for military defense.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing that the land reclamation projects on some islands and reefs in the South China Sea had been completed “in recent days”. […]
The spokeswoman did not specify where the land reclamation had been completed.
Beijing may hope that this announcement will be heralded as a sign that it’s backing off, but the fact that it’s still claiming the new islands as sovereign territory with exclusion zones under international law (a claim the U.S. does not recognize), combined with the looming threat of a Chinese declaration of an ADIZ over the region, is keeping tensions sky high.
To boot, there’s plenty that Beijing can do on the islands to provoke neighbors without actually expanding the atolls in size: The recent appearance of artillery on one of the islands raised temperatures in Hanoi and Washington, and any moves to start drilling for the region’s supposedly huge energy resources will take things to the next level. As spokeswoman Hua somewhat ominously said at the press conference: “As for the next step, China will begin fulfilling the relevant functions of the facilities.”