China has been building artificial islands on reefs in the many disputed areas around the South China Sea. The unprecedented land reclamation currently being conducted by China is increasing tensions with the U.S. and its allies, according to Pacific Fleet Commander Harry Harris.
The land reclamation by China in contested islands of the South China Sea is raising serious questions over whether Beijing intends confrontation or cooperation with other regional powers, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Nations in the region are furious, and international business is worried that these new islands dominate major shipping lanes. This new phase of the long conflict between China, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines regarding offshore claims has dramatically raised the diplomatic stakes.
US admiral Harry Harris called
the islands China’s Great Wall of Sand. The “sand” refers to the extensive raising of reefs on a sand base. At least one island contains what looks like a runway base, built on previously submerged reefs and other facilities. They’re big, too, many hectares in size. It’s a massive project.
Harris said that China's unabated construction of artificial islands throughout the disputed body of water is provocative.
A recent statement of Harry Harris: "What’s really drawing a lot of concern in the here and now is the unprecedented land reclamation currently being conducted by China. China is building artificial land by pumping sand on to live coral reefs –- some of them submerged -– and paving over them with concrete."
Pham Binh Minh, Vietnam’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, has already demanded China halt work on transforming reefs into small colonies with piers and, in one case, a helipad and large buildings.
Minh called on countries outside Asia to join the US, which has raised concerns privately with Beijing, in pressing “through all possible channels” for China to down tools. But he acknowledged it was unlikely to do so.
China is building mall-like structures in the Spratly islands, with some reaching several stories on the Cuarteron and Gaven reefs, Philippine Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told reporters earlier this month.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last month said that his country “is carrying out necessary construction on its own islands, and that isn’t directed against and won’t affect anyone.”
The US urged all claimants to comply with the 2002 Declaration of Conduct between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where the parties committed to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” Harris said.
Michael Wesley, director of the Asia Pacific School at the Australian National University, said Australia could not avoid being affected "given that 60 per cent of its trade goes through the South China Sea".