South China Sea Offers 209 More Land Features China Can Build On In 18 Months

South China Sea claimed by China

The South China Sea rocks and reefs that Chinese dredgers continue to convert into usable islands for commercial and military use has raised concerns among the U.S. and its allies about Beijing’s agenda. Accordingly, the White House is proceeding with patrols along the artificial islands already built.

On Saturday, October 10, 2015, Newsweek reported that a senior Chinese military official requesting anonymity, disclosed what China is capable of in the South China Sea. She made the following assertion.

“There are 209 land features still unoccupied in the South China Sea and we could seize them all. And we could build on them in 18 months.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced during his visit to Washington on September 22, that Beijing has no intention of militarizing the islands. He made the commitment at a news conference with President Barack Obama at the White House, but did not elaborate on the direction of China’s current activities in the South China Sea.

In a press briefing on Friday, October 9, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying warned against U.S. patrols in the South China Sea. Reuters released Hua’s statement.

“We will never allow any country to violate China’s territorial waters and airspace in the Spratly Islands, in the name of protecting freedom of navigation and overflight. We urge the related parties not to take any provocative actions, and genuinely take a responsible stance on regional peace and stability.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. dispatched freedom-of-navigation patrols to the South China Sea six times since 2011, including three times navigating the waters around the Spratly Islands. But no patrols have gone within 12 nautical miles of the rocks and reefs where China has built its artificial islands since 2012.

In a New York Times report, Philippine secretary of foreign affairs Albert F. del Rosario said that sending American ships within 12 miles of the islands would help maintain stability in the region. He underscored the strategic importance of such a move.

“Failure to challenge false claims of sovereignty would undermine this order and lead China to the false conclusion that its claims are accepted as a fait accompli.”

Citing historical evidence going back to the Yuan Dynasty, China lays sovereignty claims over all the islands in the South China Sea and its waters. To validate its claims, China has been using a concept inherited from the old Kuomintang regime of a 9 dashed line boundary that includes certain islands beyond Hainan Island (China’s southernmost point). A departure from the original concept occurs when the People’s Republic claims not just the islands as the delineation intended, but also most of the South China Sea.

Antonio T. Carpio, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, found China guilty of “grand theft of the global commons” and offered the Philippines conciliatory solution of declaring the South China Sea a sanctuary for fish and part of the global commons.

In its 2015 conference hosted by Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur between August 1 and 6, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) voiced its objections to China’s reclamation projects across the South China Sea. ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh of Vietnam urged China to adhere to a code of conduct for all states in the Southeast Asian region.

“We are calling for the termination of such activities, which are of concern to us, and eroding trust and confidence among the parties, and complicating the very process of negotiating. In the face of the situation, it is even more urgent for ASEAN and China to early conclude the COC.”

The Wall Street Journal reported a U.S. official confirming on Sunday, October 9, that a decision was made to conduct such patrols. It was unclear when that might happen, but another U.S. official indicated that the operation could come within days.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter has also confirmed that the Pacific Fleet is ready to conduct “freedom of navigation operations” around the South China Sea.

[Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images]