China’s island building projects in the disputed Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea has caused major tensions between it, its neighbors, and the U.S. China now seeks to smooth over relations by stopping the island building. But the U.S. and other parties are skeptical that China will actually do what it has promised.
China and countries within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), namely Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan, all claim sovereignty over the islands, and these countries are none too happy with China for its land reclaiming, artificial island building which, according to Slate, amounts to around 2,000 acres so far.
The U.S. describes China’s Island program as “problematic actions” and is particularly concerned, according to the Wall Street Journal, about an airbase that appears to be being built on one island, setting up a military base in the area to assert control, or what is referred to as an air-defense identification zone, over the region. This does not sit well with John Kerry.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi at the ASEAN forum in Malaysia insists that China has halted its activities, according to Sky News, and challenged those in doubt to check it out.
“China has already stopped. You look, who is building? Take a plane and look for yourself.”
Charles Jose, Philippine Foreign Ministry spokesman, expressed extreme doubt, saying that island building projects have only been halted because a second phase of development is on the horizon where building on the islands will begin.
Information from Head of the South China Sea Institute, Director Wu Shicun, as reported by the Financial Times, suggests that foreign minister Wang Yi might not be so truthful in his assertive claims.
“China has completed all land reclamation projects. Land reclamation is one part of the construction on the islands. The construction of civilian infrastructure (light houses, and other navigational aid facilities) has begun.”
Why are these islands so important to everyone involved? Not only are they in a key shipping route for the South China Sea, but they may also be rich in oil and gas reserves — surprise, surprise. And, much to the chagrin of other ASEAN nations, China wants to assert total control of the disputed area and has remained steadfast, up to this point, that it will not halt its island building activities no matter who pressures them.
So, this stunning turn-around in claims, an effort China insists is an attempt to improve relations with the US and ASEAN countries, is meeting with skepticism and accusations that suggest China is outright being deceitful. The ball is now in China’s court, and it has much to prove.
[Photo by Hulton Archives / Getty Images]