Asia's Game of Thrones
China Says It’s Done Building Islands

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has announced that his country has stopped its land reclamation works in the Spratly islands, which have so far yielded it seven islands comprising hundreds of acres of prime territory for building such things as military bases, runways, and seaports. Reuters has more:

Wang’s remarks at a regional meeting in Kuala Lumpur appeared designed to defuse tensions with other countries that lay claim to parts of the sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. […]

When asked by a reporter whether China would temporarily halt reclamation work in the strategic waterway, he replied: “China has already stopped. You just take an aeroplane to take a look.”

Philippine foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose said China had stopped reclamation because it had already formed its new islands.

“At the same time, China announced they are moving on to Phase 2, which is construction of facilities on the reclaimed features. The Philippines views these activities as destabilizing,” Jose said.

This news fulfills the promise of China’s June announcement that it would be finished with the land reclamation shortly, but it wouldn’t be wise to take it as a sign that tensions in the South China Sea will go away any time soon. In the first place, China can now use the islands themselves and station military aircraft on them, which is a big plus for the country. But even that’s not the prize Beijing is after.

What China really wants is official or de facto acceptance of its claim to the territory around the islands, the right to implement exclusive economic zones, and the ability to set up an ADIZ that neighbors and the U.S. will all respect. Moreover, Beijing is seeking mineral rights both to the seabed around the islands and through the roughly 90 percent of the South China Sea it claims as its own.

Even though Beijing is past building the islands (we hope), the pursuit of these further goals, especially the next big issue of the ADIZ, is likely to keep temperatures high in the region.

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