China is nearing the completion of some of its controversial land reclamation work on the Nansha Islands (Spratly Islands) in the disputed South China Sea, the foreign ministry said today, in just the latest potentially explosive twist in the long-running territorial dispute.
“The land reclamation project for China’s construction on some islands and reefs on the Nansha islands will completed soon,” the Foreign Ministry proudly announced in its statement, though without identifying which of the seven reefs currently undergoing reclamation are almost finished.
The ministry reiterated China’s altruistic motives for their pet construction project, which they say will help with maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and navigational assistance as well as help with some undefined military goals. Once reclamation is completed, China will move onto the next phase and begin building facilities to “fulfill the relevant functions,” the ministry added.
China was also quick to point out that the land reclamation projects are well within the scope of the nation’s sovereignty and will not affect any other nation’s freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.
Of course, all these charitable goals and sincere reassurances aren’t likely to go over well in neighboring countries who hold competing claims in the Disputed South China Sea (can we just change its name to this already?) or in the United States. Last month, the United States flew a spy plane over some of these disputed islands to signal that the U.S. does not recognize China’s territorial claims in the region. Earlier this month, Philippine President Benigo Aquino III compared China to Nazi Germany because of its aggressive posture in the South China Sea.
According to Reuters, before January 2014, China had only reclaimed about five hectares in the South China Sea, but this has now soared to some 800 hectares. Pictures from the recent U.S. flyover show a hive of activity on one island that is home to military barracks, a lookout tower and a 3,000 meter runway that experts expect to be operational by the end of the year.
by Alex Linder
[Images via Sina]