China: 'No fear of trouble' over South China Sea
China has landed a test flight on a recently built airfield on artificial islands in the South China Sea, turning up the temperature in a long-simmering dispute over Beijing’s ambitions in the region.
Since at least 2013, China has been carrying out a project to build artificial islands and military bases in those waters, on a huge scale and a fast pace. By June, China had constructed or reclaimed 2,900 acres of land, The Wall Street Journal reported; three months earlier, the figure stood at 2,000 acres.
The areas of development are hundreds of miles off China’s coast, in what the U.S. considers international waters. But Beijing has laid claim to almost all of the South China Sea, despite opposition from countries like the Philippines.
International observers have been tracking Beijing’s empire-building in those waters. For a look at the scope of China’s land reclamation, and a sense of its ambitions, check out these images, released late last year.
A senior Chinese admiral strongly defended his country's activities in the South China Sea Sunday, restating Beijing's sovereignty in the region and warning it "had no fear of trouble."
Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, addressed the tensions resulting from overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an annual conference on security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo speaks at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday.
Sun said that the issue had "become overheated because of provocations of certain countries for their own selfish interests." He also reiterated that Beijing would not recognize a pending decision of an international tribunal in The Hague in a case brought by the Philippines contesting China's claim to some territory in the region.
"We do not make trouble, but we have no fear of trouble," he said. "China will not bear the consequences, nor will it allow any infringement upon its sovereignty and security interests or stay indifferent to the irresponsible behavior of some countries in and around the South China Sea."
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Overlapping territorial claims
Numerous countries have rival, overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all dispute the sovereignty of various island chains and surrounding waters, which has triggered a number of flashpoints and standoffs in recent years.
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The U.S. has protested China's shows of force over the issue and has sent warships and aircraft carriers through the region to assert what it claims is its freedom of navigation and overflight.
On Friday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned China was at risk of "erecting a Great Wall of self-isolation" if it continued with its policies in the region.
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Sun appeared to be referring to the U.S. in comments Sunday when he criticized the actions of "some countries."
"On one hand, they implement the so-called freedom of navigation program by openly showing military muscles in the South China Sea," he said.
"On the other hand, they support allies confronting China, forcing China to accept and honor the arbitration award. China firmly opposes such behavior."
Hague tribunal 'has no jurisdiction'
Sun said China would not recognize any finding in the case initiated by the Philippines in the permanent court of arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, a tribunal appointed by the U.N. to adjudicate on international disputes over maritime territory.
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Sun said that the case "in nature, denies China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea."
"The ... tribunal has no jurisdiction over China. Therefore, the arbitration award is not binding on China," he said.
"The Chinese government has repeatedly stated that it shall not accept nor participate in the so-called arbitration and shall not recognize or honor the award."
China has drawn criticism for developing airstrips and other military installations on remote but contested mid-ocean outcrops, such as the Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, occupied by China, but claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.