U.S. Raises Concerns Over China's Unprecedented Reclamations
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris Jr. on Tuesday addressed the rising concerns surrounding China’s unprecedented land reclamation in the South China Sea.
Harris, who spoke Tuesday at the War Memorial in Canberra as a guest of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, stated that the country is creating a “great wall of sand” in reference to its ever-increasing reclamation in the Spratly Island Chain. China has currently built over 1.5 square miles of artificial landmass, and the pace of the construction is raising red flags regarding China’s intentions.
The reclamation has been carried out via dredging vessels dumping sediment on top of live coral reefs in the region, which are then paved over with concrete to create islands. Beijing has already completed construction on some of the Spratly reefs—the Fiery Cross Reef, Cuarteron Reef, and Gaven Reefs—and has reportedly begun the reclamation process on several others.
Harris expressed that this “great wall of sand” has put into question whether China plans to confront or contribute to stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
China’s muscle-flexing over territorial claims of much of the South China Sea has ignited trepidation in nations such as the Philippines and Japan, who also claim parts of the Sea. Earlier this month, Japan and Indonesia collaborated in a high-level bilateral “maritime forum” to strengthen cooperation in ensuring sea security, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, among others, argued that China's nine-dash claim has no legal basis in international law. Both the Philippines and Vietnam have lodged a diplomatic protest with the country regarding its claims in the South China Sea, and last year Australia agreed to aid Japan in boosting military training and cooperation as a safety net against China’s speedy reclamations.
China’s artificial islands are ideal locations for military outposts and have been constructed with buildings, runways, and wharves. The country has been quiet about the purpose of its vast reclamation but has maintained that its activities are justified and reasonable.
Harris stated that 60 percent of the U.S. Navy will be based in the Pacific Fleet by 2020, and the U.S.’s immediate plan to position Zumwalt stealth destroyers in the Pacific was also discussed. Australia’s Defense Minister outlined the country’s strategy to focus on building up its naval fleet to more efficiently address South Sea conflicts.
The U.S. will maintain a presence at the forefront of the region to ensure stability and security, and to address any conflict that could potentially arise. Harris said that while they are hopeful China will contribute to stability rather than confront it, the U.S. will continue engaging China and encourage the country to take a responsible stance on the rules and regulations in the South China Sea.