China Promises Cooperation in South China Sea

Spratley Islands

Published Sep 18, 2015 2:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

After years of being locked in a bitter dispute with Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli vowed to step up maritime cooperation with members of the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) at the 12th annual China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning City, China.

Mr. Gaoli was clear in noting that China’s disputes are with individual countries and not ASEAN.

The Chinese have conducted several reclamation projects, constructed artificial islands as well 16 offshore platforms in the South China Sea. Gaoli also accused countries outside of the region with meddling in the territorial disputes and fueling discontent.

China has been particularly displeased with the U.S., who they claim has militarized the region by conducting military drills with countries like Japan and the Philippines. It remains to be seen if China will actually deescalate regional tensions.

In August, Japan released 14 photos pinpointing 16 offshore platforms located in disputed territories in the South China Sea. China announced that it would cease its reclamation projects shortly after the photos were released. But earlier this week, the U.S. released a report that China had in fact continued dredging in the Spratley archipelago.

On September 16, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that Beijing was conducting necessary construction work to improve conditions on the island.

"The Nansha islands are China's territory. In this regard, China possesses ample historical and legal basis," Wang said, using the Chinese name for the Spratly Islands.

On September 15, Japan promised an unnamed amount of warships and a donation of $1.7 billion to Vietnam to strengthen its maritime forces.

While not specifically naming China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited stability-threatening, large-scale land reclamation projects and the building of outposts as the primary motivators for the donations.